Manitoba farmer names federal government, company that acquired wheat board in $160M lawsuit

Manitoba farmer names federal government, company that acquired wheat board in $160M lawsuit

A southwestern Manitoba farmer is leading a $160-million lawsuit against the federal government and the company that acquired the Canadian Wheat Board, claiming money is owed to thousands of farmers for grain that was sold to the wheat board in its final years.

In a statement of claim filed this week in Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench, Brookdale, Man., area farmer Andrew Dennis seeks to certify a class action lawsuit on behalf of farmers who delivered wheat and barley to the now-defunct Canadian Wheat Board in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 crop years. 

The claim was initially filed in federal court four years ago, according to Anders Bruun, one of the lawyers working on the case. It is being re-filed in Manitoba because the federal court only has jurisdiction to hear cases on federal entities, not private entities like G3 Canada Limited — the company that acquired the Canadian Wheat Board following a July 31, 2015, transaction.

It's also named in the lawsuit, along with G3 Global Grain Group and the federal agriculture department.

"It's his [Andrew Dennis's] view that a wrong has occurred and he's quite happy to put forward his name to stand as a representative plaintiff to correct this injustice," said Bruun. 

"He's quite keen to see the right thing done in this particular case."

The claim says farmers are owed more than $145 million, which should have been paid to them as part of their last payment for grain sold to the single-desk marketing board during the final two years of its existence.

According to the claim, money from farmers' pool accounts with the Canadian Wheat Board was moved to a contingency fund, and that contingency fund was then used as seed money for the new company.

The claim also seeks $10 million in punitive damages and nearly $6 million for allegedly improper transition costs. 

 A spokesperson for G3 told CBC News in an email the company does not comment on active legal cases. 

The federal agriculture department hasn't responded to a CBC News request for comment on the case. 

"They [farmers] want to see the government and the business entity involved do the right thing," said Bruun. "They're probably getting a little frustrated with why it's taking so long." 

Approximately 70,000 producers sold 18 to 24 million tonnes of grain to more than 60 countries through the board during the two crop years in question, according to the claim. Bruun estimates individual farmers' claims will range from a few dollars to $50,000, with the average being owed between $5,000 and $10,000. 

A news release from the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board says lawyers will ask to discontinue the federal case in favour of the Manitoba court class action on May 15. 

A statement of defence hasn't been filed and none of the allegations in the claim have been proven in court.