A lawyer suing the Canadian government on behalf of 135,000 cattle producers is urging his class action clients to pressure federal politicians to settle.
Cameron Pallett is seeking damages for losses producers suffered as a result of the BSE crisis. In a statement of claim filed in 2005, he alleges government officials were negligent in allowing the remains of infected cattle from Great Britain to enter Canada’s livestock feed system and are guilty of misfeasance of public office for not disclosing the danger.
Pallett, who practices in Mississaugua, Ont., spoke to about 140 people in Red Deer on Wednesday. He described how cattle from Great Britain that entered Canada before an import ban was imposed were identified but still allowed to be processed here.
“What kind of a monitoring program is that?”
He said a 1994 internal government report concluded that there was a 100 per cent chance that at least one of those British cattle had BSE, and that infection of the Canadian herd would have catastrophic consequences.
“They laid out exactly what was going to happen nine years later.”
The Alberta cow that triggered the BSE crisis in 2003 had been fed infected calf-starter in 1997, said Pallett.
“So they had three years to act to prevent the disaster . . . and they did not act; and they did not tell you. That’s the thrust of our claim.”
Separate BSE class actions were launched in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec in 2005, with the Alberta and Saskatchewan lawsuits later merged into the Ontario claim. An application to add the Quebec action is pending.
Feed supplier Ridly Inc. was also named a defendant in the lawsuit, but settled without admission of liability for $6 million. That money is now being used to finance the legal proceedings.
The federal government has tried unsuccessfully to have the class action dismissed.
“I can tell you that we’re going to win,” said Pallett.
However, it could be 10 years before a trial occurs and the subsequent appeals are heard, he said.
Efforts by lobbyists to persuade the federal government to review the matter and mediate a settlement have been unsuccessful.
“What we’re hearing from the prime minister’s people and the agriculture minister’s people is this: we’re hearing that they don’t think enough Canadians care about this,” said Bryan Thomas, a senior vice-president with Fleishman-Hillard Canada Inc., who was at the meeting.
“It’s up to you,” said Pallett. “If you want to get anything done in a more reasonable timeframe you need to tell that to every politician within earshot and in no uncertain terms.”
Producers at the presentation applauded Pallett for his efforts and agreed that they need to act.
“There’s power in numbers,” said Donald Brecknock, who farms near Innisfail.
Red Deer County Councillor Penny Archibald, who also farms near Innisfail, agreed that help is needed.
“We haven’t made anything in cattle since BSE, and I don’t think anyone else here has either.”
Randy Kaiser of Ponoka, who helped organize the presentation, also urged action on the part of producers.
“The more of this kind of support that we can give this group of lawyers that have been working their asses off the last five years, the sooner it will happen.”
Although Kaiser expected a greater turnout, the audience included people who travelled great distances to be there.
Lee Davis came from south of Mayerthorpe. He said he wanted to learn about the class action and was impressed by what he heard.
Stephen Shwetz was among three members of the Woodlands Ranchers Association who drove to Red Deer from northeast of Edmonton. He said they’ve arranged for Pallett to speak to their group in June.
Mary Thompson, who worked for Agriculture Financial Services Corp. for 23 years, travelled to Red Deer from Airdrie after hearing about the presentation that morning.
“I know the suffering of the rural people,” she said.
Red Deer MP Earl Dreeshen and Wild Rose MP Blake Richards said later that they couldn’t comment on the class action lawsuit because it’s before the courts.
Wetaskiwin MP Blaine Calkins could not be immediately contacted, and Crowfoot MP Kevin Sorenson is out of the country.
The allegations contained in the BSE class action lawsuit have yet to be proven in court.
Additional information about the lawsuit can be found online at www.bseclassaction.ca.