As the new marketing era dawned Aug. 1, Canada's prime minister took his revisionist view of history and his ideological vendetta against the Canadian Wheat Board to a new level.
He retroactively pardoned farmers convicted of running the border with their grain trucks in the early 1990s as a protest, and who defied customs officers by stealing their compounded vehicles back. Some were later convicted of contempt of court.
Stephen Harper turned to the rarely used Royal Prerogative of Mercy to issue these pardons, saying these self-declared freedom fighters were courageous for standing up to an unjust law.
"Let me be clear about this, these people were not criminals; they were our fellow citizens, who protested injustice by submitting themselves peacefully to the consequences of challenging that injustice. Those consequences are what was wrong," Harper told his audience.
Did all of those charged get pardons? Citing privacy laws, the government won't tell us.
Usually, people who receive a pardon under the federal justice system ask for one. The Parole Board of Canada considers those requests against some clearly spelled-out criteria before recommending clemency.
First of all, there must be evidence of substantial injustice or undue hardship that is out of proportion to the nature and the seriousness of the offence and the resulting consequences.
"In general terms, the notions of injustice and hardship imply that the suffering which is being experienced could not be foreseen at the time the sentence was imposed. In addition, there must be clear evidence that the injustice and/or the hardship exceed the normal consequences of a conviction and sentence."
The truth is, some farmers didn't like being required to pool their grain through the CWB. They wanted to sell directly to customers in the United States and they couldn't persuade either the duly elected government of the day or the courts to embrace their world view. Their protest was designed to provoke the response it got by leaving authorities with no choice but to enforce the laws of the day.
In fact, the protesters were counting on it. Some deliberately chose jail time rather than pay fines.
As well, "the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy is not intended to circumvent other existing legislation," the criteria state.
"An act of executive clemency will not be considered where the difficulties experienced by an individual applicant result from the normal consequences of the application of the law." In other words, any Canadians who decide to run the border can expect to find themselves in court and lose the keys to their vehicles for a spell.
"Furthermore, the Royal Prerogative of Mercy is not a mechanism to review the merits of existing legislation, or those of the justice system in general," the PBC site states.
"The exercise of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy will not interfere with a court's decision when to do so would result in the mere substitution of the discretion of the Governor General, or the Governor in Council, for that of the courts. There must exist clear and strong evidence of an error in law, of excessive hardship and/or inequity, beyond that which could have been foreseen at the time of the conviction and sentencing," the criteria state.
It appears the Harper government wants to be remembered as being "tough on crime," except when it involves laws with which it disagrees.
The courts found farmers involved in these publicity stunts were guilty as charged and that opinion held up on appeal. "The appellants were properly charged for violating Section 114 of the Customs Act. The trial judge found that customs officers, acting in the scope of their duties, did seize the vehicles, and that the appellants did wilfully evade the customs officers' attempts to place those vehicles into custody," Madam Justice C.L. Kenny wrote in upholding their convictions.
In honouring these protesters, Harper ignores the polls that showed the silent majority of farmers in Western Canada actually supported the CWB monopoly. Despite a bit of grumbling now and again, they consistently elected a majority of directors who supported the single desk. This is presumably why this law-and-order government ignored the law that required a producer plebiscite before making changes.
The majority Harper government had the ability to bring about changes to western grain marketing without resorting to tactics that abuse both power and process. Stunts like this expose the 'straw-man argument' on which this whole purge was based.
Any relief that comes from knowing Harper is running out of ways to stomp, tromp and rub people's noses in his government's decimation of the Canadian Wheat Board is tempered by the question of what he will turn his attention to next.
Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 204-792-4382 or by email: email@example.com