Legal action update

PROTECTING ONTARIO GRAIN FARMERS

ON OCTOBER 23, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice denied Grain Farmers of Ontario’s request for a stay and interpretation on the seed treatment regulations passed into law July 1, 2015.

“We are extremely disappointed that the judge did not rule in our favour, leaving the grain industry in a very difficult situation as farmers try to arrange seed orders this fall,” said Mark Brock, chair of Grain Farmers of Ontario when the verdict was released. “We are pursuing other legal options and will continue to protect the rights of Ontario’s grain farmers. To be very clear, Grain Farmers of Ontario has not conceded on this matter.”

REVIEW OF LEGAL PROCEEDINGS
The regulations restrict the sale and use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seeds in Ontario. The goal of the province is to reduce the number of acres planted with neonicotinoids (imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and clothianidin) by 80 per cent by 2017.

These products now fall under a new class of pesticides known as Class 12. The use of these products in 2016 will require a written declaration by farmers wanting treated seed for half of their acres or the completion of a pest assessment report to exceed this limit. Stricter controls for the completion of this documentation and tighter restrictions on the sale and use of neonicotinoids on any amount of land will be implemented in 2017.

Grain Farmers of Ontario opposes these regulations on the grounds they are unworkable for farmers and the grain industry and opposes the timelines for implementation which are impractical.

Grain Farmers of Ontario initiated the legal action against the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change in June, requesting the Ontario Superior Court of Justice provide an interpretation of the regulations. The organization also asked for a stay of the regulations until May 1, 2016 or ‘such time as the requirements of the Regulation can reasonably be met’.

“The decision to seek legal action against the Government of Ontario was not easy and is unprecedented in the history of our organization, but it is necessary and the outcome of our multi-step legal strategy will be critical to the livelihood of grain farmers across the province,” noted Barry Senft, CEO of Grain Farmers of Ontario, when the case was filed.

In mid-August, Grain Farmers of Ontario and the organization’s legal team were notified that a court date was set for September 28. The hearing was scheduled for two hours; however, the case was heard for four hours. The judge reserved judgement on this case, and while no specific date for a ruling was provided, the judge acknowledged the time-sensitive nature of the required verdict on the stay, given the need for farmers to place their seed orders in the fall.

When the Ontario Courts published the ruling on October 23 (court file no.: CV-15-531305), the Judge sided in favour of the Ontario government’s request to dismiss the case.

Since the ruling was to dismiss the case, the Judge did not need to rule on the request for a stay of the regulations; however, he did and published a decision to deny the merits of our application for a stay.

Of note, is that the judge did acknowledge that these regulations are, in effect, a ban, despite the province’s assertion that they are not banning the use of neonicotinoids.

The decision states, “The use of farmlands in this province have been the subject of extensive regulation regarding the use of pesticides. The addition of neonicotinoid-treated seeds to the list of controlled pesticide treatments constitutes, in effect, a ban on its use subject to certain conditions.”

NEXT STEPS
On November 3, Grain Farmers of Ontario submitted an application to the Ontario Divisional Court to have the request for a stay on the regulations to be heard at the Ontario Court of Appeals. Shortly after, an application was also submitted to the Ontario Court of Appeals regarding the dismissal of the larger request, which includes the interpretation of the regulations.

“We have the grounds for this appeal and are confident that the appeals court will hear our case,” says Brock. “Our priority is to protect the rights of our farmer-members and this matter requires us to continue legal action.”

Grain Farmers of Ontario hopes the courts move expeditiously on this issue and expects a decision ahead of planting season. 

While these proceedings continue, Grain Farmers of Ontario reminds farmer-members to familiarize themselves with the regulations and comply with them if they wish to use neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed.

For the latest updates on government relations news, court appearances, and to read the full court ruling, go to www.gfo.ca/protectingpollinators. •

About Meghan Burke 17 Articles
Manager, Communications, Grain Farmers of Ontario