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Supreme Court allows BSE lawsuit: report

The Supreme Court of Canada won’t stop cattle producers from suing the federal government over the arrival of BSE in this country, according to a report Thursday by the Canadian Press.

The news agency said the high court won’t hear an appeal filed by the federal government and Winnipeg feed maker Ridley Inc. that was aimed at stopping the cattle producers’ proposed class action suits before they’re heard in lower courts.

CP said the court, as usual, gave no reasons for rejecting the appeals, which Ottawa and Ridley filed on Sept. 19 and 21, respectively.

The suit in question is one of four co-ordinated suits in four provinces, claiming potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in damages as a result of international bans on trade in Canadian beef after the May 2003 discovery of Canada’s first confirmed case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

Negligence, the suits had alleged, led to contaminated feed that in turn infected the Alberta cow in question.

The Supreme Court’s decision applied to the Ontario suit, filed by Niagara Falls cattleman Bill Sauer and including cattle producers in five other provinces as members of its proposed “class,” though it has yet to be certified as a class action.

A related suit, filed in Quebec with cattleman Donald Berneche of St-Gabriel de Brandon as its representative plaintiff, was authorized as a class action last June. The remaining actions in Saskatchewan and Alberta have not yet been so authorized.

Settlement

The Supreme Court’s decision may be a moot point for Ridley, which in February announced a proposed settlement of the four suits without admitting to any liability in the matter. If that settlement is approved, the court cases would continue with the federal government and unnamed federal bureaucrats as the remaining defendants.

Ridley’s settlement, if approved by all parties, would see the feed company pay $6 million into a trust fund that caps its exposure to the plaintiffs’ claims. Quebec’s Superior Court has already approved Ridley’s proposed settlement in the Berneche suit, while the settlement was to go to Ontario’s Superior Court for approval last month.

Pending approval in Ontario and “any directions from the Alberta court,” the settlement will then be finalized, Ridley said in May when the settlement was approved in Quebec.

Details have yet to be finalized on who would be eligible to collect from the fund — and on how they would collect.

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