by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Grain Farmers of Ontario has filed an application in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to interpret the province’s neonicotinoid regulations as “a legal absurdity” and delay their enactment which is scheduled for next year.
“The regulations are unworkable, pose a clear threat to farmers and set a precedent for a new way of farming. That’s why we are asking the courts for a judicial independent interpretation of these regulations,” said GFO’s chair, Mark Brock, on Monday.
GFO’s lawyer, Eric Gillespie, Professional Corporation Barristers & Solicitors in downtown Toronto, says “legal absurdity” is a term that refers to laws that can’t be made to work because of practical reasons. Gillespie describes the key element of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change’s regulations, which come into effect on July 1, as the need for corn and soybean farmers to provide an assessment report if they want to use more than 50 per cent treated seed next year. “The only time these types of assessments can really be done is in the spring. Obviously, this year the spring has come and gone, the seeds are already planted and the crop is already in the field,” Gillespie said.
“From the perspective of the people who actually know, the Grain Farmers of Ontario, the government system appears to be completely unworkable. There is simply no time to conduct assessments next spring have them reviewed and get seed out to farmers, all within the space of just a few weeks.” The grain industry in Ontario is “very large, Gillespie pointed out.
In response, spokesman for the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, Lindsay Davidson, wrote in an email: “We are not banning the use of neonicotinoids – farmers can continue to use them provided they are properly trained and can demonstrate the continued need for their use.
“Based on feedback we heard from farmers and stakeholders, changes were made to the final regulation including extending the training available to farmers and phasing in requirements for pest assessments.
“It will be inappropriate to comment further while legal proceedings are underway.”
Gillespie filed the action in Toronto last week, hoping that a “special court” will be able to hear the case shortly. While the earliest court date available is in August, Gillespie hopes to be able to advance the first part of this case to a date in July because “there is some urgency.” Even though the regulation comes into effect in two days, “the first date that anything really begins to happen in a practical way is in August,” Gillespie says. “As long as we get a court date in July it can be dealt with appropriately.”
The province’s goal is to reduce the acreage planted to neonic-treated seed by 80 per cent by the 2017 season. According to a press release issued today, GFO wants the regulations’ implementation delayed until May 1 of next year.
“It would be in all of our best interests to take a more collaborative approach as a whole,” Brock says.
“The point is ... to show (implementation) is not workable without consultation.
“Grain Farmers of Ontario has provided the government of Ontario a number of ways of achieving their policy objective without going this route,” Brock says.
Brock says direction for this legal action is coming from Grain Farmer members, although there is support elsewhere in the value chain. Gillespie notes that chemical makers and other affected groups have the option of taking part as interveners.
Early in a press conference Monday afternoon, Gillespie said “the courts interpret government regulation and legislation all the time. Later, when questioned, Gillespie allowed that he didn’t have an example in mind of a similar case: “The specific action that we are dealing with right now hasn’t been undertaken before because there hasn’t been an attempt by a government that we are aware of to bring in regulations like this . . . That’s one of the reasons that we probably will end up in court on this one.” BF