by SUSAN MANN
Allowing more bee imports from other jurisdictions reduces Ontario and Canadian beekeepers’ self-sustainability and could lead to the introduction of more diseases or very aggressive Africanized honeybees, says an Ontario beekeeper.
Ontario Beekeepers’ Association president Tibor Szabo made the comments in response to a recent decision handed down in a court case involving three Western Canadian beekeepers. Last week, the three beekeepers won their appeal of a Federal Court decision handed down March 5, 2014 quashing their challenge of the federal government’s enforcement of rules prohibiting some bee imports from the United States.
Traditionally Ontario, with its warmer climate that is more suited to bee development than Western Canada, was “a self-sufficient province and has exported bees to other provinces,” Szabo, explains. But that traditional self-sufficiency stretching back more than 100 years collapsed last year.
Ontario became almost completely dependent on imported stock “because pesticide use here (in field crops) has wiped out the bees so bad we couldn’t regrow them,” he claims, referring to controversy surrounding the use of neonicotinoid class of insecticides. “Once that’s fixed we can get back to reproducing our own stock.”
Despite the need to import bees last year, Ontario has traditionally been opposed to allowing more imports or a relaxing of rules governing imports, he says. “We want to run a tight ship and we don’t want to bring in any more problems. All the (bee disease) problems that we have in Canada were brought in 100 years ago” through imports of bees. Many of the imports were illegal, he claims.
“You bring in more bees and you bring in more disease,” Szabo notes. “That’s how it comes in.”
The court case involves Paradis Honey Ltd. of Alberta, Honeybee Enterprises Ltd. of British Columbia and Rocklake Apiaries Ltd. of Manitoba. They have launched a lawsuit against the federal agriculture minister and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency alleging the federal government was negligent in imposing or enforcing a prohibition on live honeybee packages from the United States after 2006 and continuing until today. They also allege the government acted without lawful authority to impose the prohibition and deny import permits. They are seeking $200 million in damages. The allegations haven’t been proven in court.
The Canadian Honey Council based in Alberta is “not commenting on the legalities of the case,” says executive director Rod Scarlett. “It is a case of the government versus those particular beekeepers.”
In addition the Council, Canada’s national organization representing beekeepers, doesn’t have a position on bee imports.
One way bees are imported is in a package – a cereal-box sized container holding a small colony including a queen. Another way is to just import the queen, which comes in a match-box sized container that holds the queen and a few attendants, according to the written Federal Appeal Court judgment handed down April 8 in Ottawa. It’s more efficient to replace an existing colony with another colony that comes in the package size, the judgment says. Replacing a colony with just a queen “requires more inputs and carries more risk on the way to establishing a productive colony.”
The Appeal Court judgment was supported by two of the justices hearing the case, David Stratas and M. Nadon, while one justice, Denis Pelletier, dissented. Stratas and Nadon disagreed with Pelletier and the Federal Court that the beekeepers’ claim for damages must fail. The facts support a claim in negligence and bad faith, they say in the written decision.
Their conclusion is the beekeepers’ claim “should be allowed to continue.”
Beekeepers rely on importing honeybees to replace colonies lost due to winterkill or other factors. Since the 1980s there has been a ban on importing honeybees from the United States. The prohibition on imports was designed to prevent the spread into Canada of tracheal mite bee pest, which would have had disastrous effects on Canada’s beekeeping industry.
The last regulation under the Health of Animals Act prohibiting bee imports from the United States was implemented in 2004 and expired at the end of 2006. That regulation allowed queen imports but not imports of packages. Once the regulation expired, it wasn’t replaced but imports of queens continued to be allowed while package imports weren’t, the decision says.
A new regulation wasn’t introduced, the decision says. The federal agriculture minister “simply adopted a policy that no permits would be issued for the importation of packages,” the decision says. The beekeepers say this “constitutes a de facto ministerial order or directive for which there is no lawful authority,” the decision says.
Federal officials couldn’t be reached for comment. BF
UPDATE THURS. APRIL 23, 2015: In an email on Wednesday, a CFIA spokesman said the Agency could not comment because the case was before the courts.