The Conservative government has granted pardons to prairie farmers who were convicted after illegally taking grain across the American border.
Prime minister Steven Harper announced the pardons Aug. 1 on a grain farm near Kindersley, Sask., the same day the Canadian Wheat Board lost its monopoly marketing powers as the single-desk seller of wheat, durum and malting barley in Western Canada.
“These people were not criminals,” said Harper, who spent the afternoon in Saskatchewan celebrating the end of the CWB monopoly with open-market advocates.
“They were our fellow citizens. Citizens who protested injustice by submitting themselves peacefully to the consequences of challenging injustice.”
One of the most publicized anti-CWB protests occurred in October, 2002, when 13 Alberta farmers were convicted and jailed for illegally taking grain across the border, a move that violated the Canada Customs Act.
Jim Chatenay, a former CWB director, was among the group of convicted protesters.
He was sentenced to 64 days in jail for taking one bushel of wheat across the border with the intent of donating it to a 4-H club in Montana.
Chatenay served 23 days at the Lethbridge Correctional Centre before he was released on good behaviour.
The former grain farmer said last week he has no regrets about participating in the protest or serving jail time.
He called the protest an important turning point in the fight for grain marketing change.
“The greatest respect for the law is to change an unjust law,” said Chatenay, who served as a farmer-elected CWB director from 1998 to 2008.
“You can never go too far to restore justice and gain respect ….”
Now retired and living in Innisfail, Alta., Chatenay said he would market some of his grain through a voluntary wheat board if he were still involved in farming.
“I’ve got nothing against the wheat board. There’s a lot of good people there … and I think if they downsize and regroup, they’ll be just fine,” he said.
“I would use the CWB if I was still farming … but if I was forced to use it when there’s a better price somewhere else, that’s when I get a little upset.”
Harper said western farmers would never again be told how they can or can’t market their crops.