The handcuffs came out at an Oct. 25 rally near Lethbridge, but this time no farmers were wearing them.
Saskatchewan MP David Anderson waved the cuffs to recognize the metaphorical loss of shackles that he said would occur with passage of a Conservative bill to turn the Canadian Wheat Board into a voluntary grain marketer.
His gesture was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the jailing of 13 Alberta farmers who illegally took grain across the Canada-U. S. border in 2002 to protest the CWB monopoly on wheat and non-feed barley sales.
“It’s an honour for me to be here today to stand with many of my heroes,” said Anderson, a long-time opponent of the monopoly who is also parliamentary secretary for the CWB.
Twelve of the 13 jailed farmers attended the rally near Lethbridge at the farm of Ike Lanier, one of those who participated in the 2002 protest by hauling 300 bushels of wheat across the border.
“We are here to honour the 13 that went to jail, and there are so many others in Saskatchewan and Manitoba as well, the farm organizations, who have fought, fought hard,” said Anderson.
He noted that Bill C-18 had passed second reading Oct. 24.
“That legislation will finally give you, western Canadian farmers, the same rights that are enjoyed by farmers across the rest of this country and around the world. That is the right to sell your own wheat and barley.”
His remarks were greeted with applause from a friendly crowd.
Jim Chatenay of Penhold, one of the border crossers who made the gesture while an elected CWB director, was also applauded after recounting his plan to wear the beard he started while in jail until changes were made to the board.
Now clean-shaven, Chatenay said in an interview that he had no regrets about his decision to break the law in 2002 and challenge laws involving the wheat board.
But vindicated is not the right word, he said.
“I don’t think that’s a constructive way to be. I think it’s wonderful that we were able to do that. Yes, I am a jailbird, but I’m proud because it was for a good cause, for the cause of freedom, to restore justice.”
Chatenay was sentenced to 62 days in jail for taking one bu. of wheat to the U.S. He served 58 days, some of them working on the prison farm, before getting out on good behaviour.
Chatenay said he would consider using the board once it becomes voluntary.
“Of course. I’m a businessman. If things are right, why not? I think competition is what built this great country. I think monopolies are dangerous because you’ve got total control.”
Jim Ness, who drove 100 pounds of barley across the border in 2002 and was sentenced to 25 days, had similar feelings.
“I might be the first one they sign up,” he said.
But Darren Winczura, who was one of the youngest to participate in the 2002 border run, isn’t so sure about using a voluntary wheat board. He and his brother farm 3,300 acres near Viking.
“You know what, being I’m so stubborn, probably not, because I dislike them so much. But, in the next sentence, if their price was as good or better, I probably would.”
Winczura was sentenced to 24 days in jail for taking one bag of wheat over the border. He served a day and then paid a fine to get released. He said he would do the same thing again because the issue that drove him still exists today.
“I got digging into pricing here and pricing down in the States. Same thing today, we just phoned and it’s a huge discount that we’re actually taking here.
“As an example, 13.5 percent wheat in Shelby (Montana) is $8.70 a bu., and the fixed price as of today (Oct. 25) for the wheat board is $6.58 a bu., so there you go.”
Rick Strankman of Altario said the border run of 2002 was an act of civil disobedience that is unfamiliar to most Canadians, but it was a gesture he doesn’t regret.
“I don’t know if I would want to go to jail (again), but I would like to believe I would be pleased and proud to stand up with any of those 13 guys I went to jail with to effect our rights,” he said.
Strankman served one week of a 180-day sentence in 2002 for selling 756 bu. of wheat in the U.S.
Wheat board legislation now goes to a legislative committee. Members were to be announced last week. Anderson said the committee would be allowed to call witnesses but they would be of a technical nature.
Opposition parties have vowed to fight the legislation and said Conservative MPs who are farmers would have a conflict of interest if chosen to serve on the committee.
Anderson, one of at least seven MPs who are western Canadian farmers, was dismissive of that argument.
“It’s kind of interesting that the opposition has spent a couple of weeks telling us that there’s absolutely no benefit to this bill at all in Western Canada, and now all of a sudden they seem to think that seven of us are going to get some great huge benefit from it. That’s all I’ll say on that.”