A British Columbia poultry producer says the Canadian Food Inspection Agency far overstepped when it fined him for violating interprovincial meat transport laws.
Ken Falk, who operates Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry, was exonerated but is out $215,000 in legal fees with no way to get that money back.
“It’s been a nightmare,” Falk said of the ordeal that began five years ago when a competitor reported to CFIA that provincially inspected product, which is supposed to be sold only in B.C., was found in Alberta.
Falk said he knew to whom that product had been sold, but not that the buyer had moved it out of province.
“We’d been doing business with this particular customer for probably five years prior and they know very well that we offer both a provincially inspected product and then we have some product custom-killed at a federally inspected plant,” he said. “They’ve been buying both types of product, some for their B.C. market and some for the rest of Canada and so they decided on their own (to move some to Alberta).”
CFIA investigated and in 2016 issued seven “administrative monetary penalties” of $6,000 each.
“I was just shocked because I provided them all the documentation to prove where we had shipped this product to and the shipper’s signature on the delivery receipts from the customer in Vancouver,” Falk said.
He decided to fight.
“The CFIA legal counsel had the audacity to send me a letter that said you could save money by just admitting guilt and paying the fine,” he said.
Other farmers and processors have done just that, Falk said, because they can’t afford to fight.
Under Canada’s AMP (administrative monetary penalty) system, those charged can take their cases to the Canadian Agricultural Review Tribunal.
Falk did that and recently learned he had been cleared.
He was also charged with obstruction because he refused to supply CFIA with his customer list unless the agency was prepared to keep it confidential. The fine for that charge is $10,000 and he hasn’t heard the outcome of that appeal.
But he said his is a cautionary tale that others must be aware of and prepared to fight, even though there is no way to get legal costs back.
He said he has heard from others who are worried this could happen to them, and he knows of those who have admitted guilt and paid the fine to avoid the legal fees and the weight of the federal government.
“As a farmer, I’m supposed to be able to defend myself at this tribunal. There’s no way that could happen,” he said. “These people are running up legal fees and they’re filing motions and doing things that are just way out of the realm of what it should be. The attitude of this agency is incredible. The power they’ve been given and the abuse of power that they think they can use to just beat up on Canadians is unbelievable.”
CFIA, in an emailed response to questions, said it initiated its case based on information from a confidential informant and that penalties were issued “because the CFIA believed that the available evidence showed that Twin Maple Produce Ltd. was in violation of the Meat Inspection Act (MIA) requirements for the interprovincial trade of meat products.”
Twin Maple is Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry’s parent company.
The agency noted that the Safe Food for Canadians Act and accompanying regulations have since replaced the MIA and will help prevent this type of situation from happening again.
Under the regulations, “it is the responsibility of the person who is sending or conveying a food from one province to another to ensure the food was prepared by a licence holder,” the agency said.
CFIA said it couldn’t speculate on what might motivate parties to pay penalties but did say payment “indicates that the individual or company accepted that there was a violation.”
Meanwhile, Falk’s customer was not charged and he is waiting for an apology from the CFIA.
Falk is a member of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which recently awarded CFIA a Paperweight Award for placing undue hardship on the poultry farmer.