CWB files Charter challenge of “gag order”

A federal order-in-council that directs the Canadian Wheat Board not to use its farmer-funded budget on any advocacy for the single grain marketing desk it operates, is headed to a court challenge.

The CWB announced in a press release Thursday that it filed notice Tuesday in Federal Court to question the “constitutional validity” of the order-in-council, issued in October 2006 by then-federal agriculture minister Chuck Strahl.

The CWB said its notice contends Strahl’s order, commonly referred to as the “gag order,” infringes on its Charter right to voice dissent.

“By prohibiting the expenditure of funds for the purpose of advocating in favour of the single-desk system, the government has prevented the CWB from questioning and challenging the government’s policy,” the CWB said in Tuesday’s notice.

The board said a one-day hearing will be held in Federal Court in Winnipeg on June 16 as part of the judicial review of the order-in-council.

That case, the board said, will be heard concurrently with a CWB challenge of another such order, issued in January 2007, that ordered the CWB to pay interim CEO Greg Arason a salary set by the federal government, without proper consultation with the board of directors as directed by the federal Canadian Wheat Board Act.

Arason, a former CWB CEO, was appointed in December 2006 to replace Adrian Measner, who the government had just fired. Arason served as the interim CEO until a permanent replacement, Ian White, took over in late March this year.

“At the most fundamental level, both of these cases are about farmer control of the Canadian Wheat Board,” said CWB board chairman Larry Hill, who farms at Swift Current, Sask.

“The government has overstepped its authority in areas that should rightly be the purview of the CWB’s board of directors, who are accountable to farmers,” Hill said in a release.

The CWB’s application said the gag order was issued for an improper purpose: to prohibit the CWB from making public statements opposing the Tory government’s policy regarding the future of the CWB, and to prohibit communication with Prairie wheat and barley growers regarding the CWB’s statutory purpose.

The CWB wants the court to declare the gag order “unlawful, vague and unenforceable and in contravention of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

There’s no way the CWB, as a corporate entity, can express its views without incurring costs, the application said. “All communications from the CWB necessarily result in the expenditure of funds,” the CWB said.

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