While saying "his hands are tied" when it comes to being involved in court proceedings, Malpeque MP Wayne Easter is prepared to help bring all of the players to the table to see if alternative methods can found in cases like the one being pursued against SkyeView Farms.
PEI Potato Board Chair Jason Hayden and Federation of Agriculture president David Mol wrote the veteran MP in July after learning federal prosecutors intended to appeal the acquittal of the family farming operation and owners Alex and Logan Docherty.
The Liberal MP, who is running for re-election in the October 21 vote, said he can understand why farmers feel targeted. However, he said there are no easy answers and "for us as MP's when the case gets to court, our hands are tied. We can't be seen to be trying to influence a court decision."
Judge Nancy Orr ruled federal and provincial officials violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms when they entered the farm property without a warrant. Easter said he has followed the case from the beginning and "in fact, I sat with Alex Docherty in their kitchen within a few days of this storm that hit over his farm. I saw the damage that the torrential rain had done to Ms. Docherty’s lawn and flowerbeds, looked at where the water poured out of gateways and ditches, and tore up the shoulders of the road."
The former national president of the National Farmers Union went on to say "Following the charges being laid I sat with Alex in his kitchen again and looked upon a disheartened man: anxious and frustrated with charges laid against him, the farm, and his son – a man who I consider one of the best environmentally conscious farmers in PEI, who has spent a fortune on the best equipment, land remediation, and best practices to prevent unintended damage – yet still the charges were laid."
Easter added " When I hear a man who loves the land, who loves to farm, suggest there is doubt in his mind if he should continue to farm, that worries me. "
The Liberal MP said the Fisheries Act is necessary to prevent incidents based on neglect, lack of care, or misuse. However, he noted the incident that led to the charges against the Docherty family "an unprecedented act of nature with a fierce storm (this storm’s intensity, I’m informed, is a one in 740-year event)."
Easter said he filed an Access to Information request in an attempt to find out how many fish were found in the trees and bush but it was denied.
"I witnessed from time to time fleets of DFO vehicles truck over from Moncton to Elmwood to gather further evidence and interview neighbours on the events of that storm day. In fact, some felt very intimidated by how they were interviewed," Easter said in the letter. "I also viewed a photo of a provincial environmental officer chatting with Mr. Docherty in his yard in a very intimidating fashion, making sure that the gun on his hip was evident. This was, in my view, clear harassment and evident intimidation tactics. If you were to ask me my thoughts on this whole three-year ordeal, I would say it is a clear “abuse of power” by both federal and provincial enforcement and fisheries officers."
He added he would certainly be willing to help bring together politicians, enforcement officials, watershed groups, farm leaders and others to help explore other possible avenues like third-party arbitration.
"Finding solutions to prevent fish kills and environmental damage while using public and private money to do so in a mutual and efficient manner would be a better approach than spending thousands and thousands of dollars by public and private entities in the court system," he said.
"Extreme weather events will continue to challenge our laws, and our regulations while farmers will continue to find themselves defending their name and their business until things change," Mol said when Judge Orr delivered her verdict in July. "The Federation encourages both levels of Government to look at this case, learn from it, and put future resources towards working together to find ways to effectively deal with extreme weather events."
He promised the federation would be a "willing and eager partner" in finding the alternative measures the system desperately needs as we move forward. The long-time grains and oilseeds producer said the court room is not where these problems will be solved and "certainly not where the finite resources of both government and the farming community should be focused. Let’s fix this problem together."
The federation president said he was disappointed to learn the federal government was appealing, adding the outcome of the appeal could have significant ramifications for farmers not just on PEI but across the country.
During the summer meetings of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture in Quebec City, the Island delegation was successful in having a motion passed calling for a national working group com posed of industry and government representatives to explore options outside the court system.