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Canadian beef consumers could get a break as price fixing class action lawsuit filed


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By Ross Marowits

Canadian beef consumers have a chance of getting some relief from high prices after a second class-action lawsuit has been filed alleging that the country’s largest beef suppliers conspired to restrict competition and raise prices.

The latest lawsuit was filed by the Belleau Lapointe law firm on March 24 in Quebec Superior Court.

“I find this situation infuriating,” said Sylvie de Bellefeuille, the lead plaintiff and a lawyer with Option consommateurs, in an interview.

“When we’re talking about meat, especially beef, it’s something that lots of people purchase for their basic food needs and when it comes to people with lower income, for example, they have a hard time now buying beef, so this is something that really outrages me.”

She said the case was filed after reviewing a similar national lawsuit filed in British Columbia in February that would apply to everyone in Canada.

That one was filed by Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman on behalf of Giang Bui, a Vancouver resident who purchased beef for himself and his family.

In the statement of claim, the law firm argued that the companies effectively severed the economic relationship between the price of cattle purchased by them for slaughter from the price of beef sold in Canada.

“As a result, while the price the defendants paid for cattle dropped, the supply of beef was restricted and the price of beef was fixed at an elevated, anticompetitive level, causing damages to the plaintiff and class members, while increasing the profits of the defendants and their co-conspirators.”

Lead attorney Reidar Mogerman said the Quebec and B.C. cases make the same allegations.

“We are working with the Quebec lawyers and ultimately there will be a co-ordinated national strategy,” he said from Vancouver.

De Bellefeuille said the lawsuit has attracted a lot of attention because people are frustrated by the situation.

“It’s one thing to have prices that are higher because of the pandemic, but learning that there could be more to it and that there’s collusion between those companies makes things even more unacceptable.”

The lawsuits allege that various companies related to Cargill Inc., JBS Canada ULC, Tyson Food Inc. and National Beef Packing Co LLC acted in concert since Jan. 1, 2015.

The lawsuits, which still have to be certified by judges, are seeking financial compensation equivalent to revenues generated by the artificially inflated portion of selling prices.

De Bellefeuille said the amount of compensation would likely be determined at trial.

But the sums could be large if class action lawsuits are certified to represent Canadians across the country.

“Hopefully we will be able to reimburse and get people to have at least part of their share. So we’ll see how it goes, but our goal is to try to make sure that people get their money back.”

The plaintiffs say the meat-packing plants control 85 per cent of the Canadian beef market and 80 per cent of the U.S. market.

The legal filing comes after JBS USA agreed in early February to pay US$52.5 million to settle one of several price-fixing lawsuits in Minnesota without admitting liability.

The U.S. Justice Department has been investigating the industry since the attorneys general for 11 Midwestern states urged it nearly two years ago to look into market concentration and potential price fixing by meat packers in the cattle industry during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The claims lack merit,” Cargill spokeswoman April Nelson wrote in an email.

“We compete vigorously in the market and conduct ethical business, and we are confident in our efforts to maintain market integrity on behalf of our customers and consumers.”

The other companies didn’t respond to requests for comment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2022.

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Alberta premier defends new rules on in-person learning, no mask mandates in schools

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By Dean Bennett and Colette Derworiz

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is defending new rules ordering schools to provide in-person learning during the current wave of viral illnesses, saying a clear, measured response is crucial for students and parents.

“We need a normal school environment for our children, and we need to make sure that the classrooms stay open to be able to support our parents,” Smith said at a news conference in Medicine Hat on Friday.

“That’s why we made the decision that we did — to give that clear direction.”

Her comments came a day after she announced regulatory changes saying school boards must provide in-person learning. Schools also can’t require students to wear masks in school or be forced to take classes online.

The changes take effect immediately.

“Anyone is welcome to wear a mask if they feel that that is the right choice for them, but we should not be forcing parents to mask their kids, and we shouldn’t be denying education to kids who turn up without a mask,” Smith said.

She has said mask rules and toggling from online to in-person learning adversely affected the mental health, development and education of students during the COVID-19 pandemic and strained parents scrambling to make child-care arrangements when schools shut down.

That’s over, Smith said.

“We’re just not going to normalize these kind of extreme measures every single respiratory virus season,” she said.

School boards have been asking for more direction as a slew of seasonal respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses, along with some COVID-19 cases, have led to high classroom absentee rates and have jammed children’s hospitals.

In Edmonton, Trisha Estabrooks, board chair for Edmonton Public Schools, said the decision provided the clarity that the board was seeking.

“All Albertans now understand that it’s not within the jurisdiction, and nor should it ever have been within the jurisdiction of individual school boards, to make decisions that belong to health officials,” said Estabrooks.

She said the province has made it clear that any future public health order would supersede the new rules.

The in-person learning change applies to grades 1-12 in all school settings, including public, separate, francophone, public charter and independent schools.

The masking change applies to those same grades and schools, but also to early childhood services.

The Opposition NDP criticized the new rules, saying it’s unrealistic to force schools to be all things to all students while also handling a wave of viral illnesses and not providing additional supports to do it.

Jason Schilling, head of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said the government needs to work with school boards to figure out how to make this work.

“You have schools that are struggling to staff the building, (they) can’t get substitute teachers, teachers are sick, they’re covering each other’s classes, principals are covering the classes,” Schilling said in an interview.

“And then to say if you go online, you are to still offer the same programming in person — we just don’t have the people to do that.”

Wing Li, communications director for public education advocacy organization, Support our Students, said it will be difficult for schools to offer hybrid learning without any additional resources.

“There are no teachers,” Li said in an interview. “Pivoting online was mostly due to staffing shortages, which is worse now three years in.”

Li said online learning is challenging for students but, when temporary and supported, can keep schools and communities safe from spreading illness.

“This is a quite aggressive use of the Education Act to enshrine an ideology,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2022

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Don’t have a cow: Senator’s legen-dairy speech draws metaphor from bovine caper

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OTTAWA — Haven’t you herd? A dramatic tale of 20 escaped cows, nine cowboys and a drone recently unfolded in St-Sévère, Que., and it behooved a Canadian senator to milk it for all it was worth.

Prompting priceless reactions of surprise from her colleagues, Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne recounted the story of the bovine fugitives in the Senate chamber this week — and attempted to make a moo-ving point about politics.

“Honourable senators, usually, when we do tributes here, it is to recognize the achievements of our fellow citizens,” Miville-Dechêne began in French, having chosen to wear a white blouse with black spots for the occasion.

“However, today, I want to express my amused admiration for a remarkably determined herd of cows.”

On a day when senators paid tribute to a late Alberta pastor, the crash of a luxury steamer off the coast of Newfoundland in 1918 and environmental negotiators at the recent climate talks in Egypt, senators seated near Miville-Dechêne seemed udderly taken aback by the lighter fare — but there are no reports that they had beef with what she was saying.

Miville-Dechêne’s storytelling touched on the highlights of the cows’ evasion of authorities after a summer jailbreak — from their wont to jump fences like deer to a local official’s entreaty that she would not go running after cattle in a dress and high heels.

The climax of her narrative came as nine cowboys — eight on horseback, one with a drone — arrived from the western festival in nearby St-Tite, Que., north of Trois-Rivières, and nearly nabbed the vagabonds before they fled through a cornfield.

“They are still on the run, hiding in the woods by day and grazing by night,” said Miville-Dechêne, with a note of pride and perhaps a hint of fromage. 

She neglected to mention the reported costs of the twilight vandalism, which locals say has cost at least $20,000.

But Miville-Dechêne did save some of her praise for the humans in the story, congratulating the municipal general manager, Marie-Andrée Cadorette, for her “dogged determination,” and commending the would-be wranglers for stepping up when every government department and police force in Quebec said there was nothing they could do. 

“There is a political lesson in there somewhere,” said the former journalist.

Miville-Dechêne ended on what could perhaps be interpreted as a butchered metaphor about non-partisanship: “Finally, I would like to confess my unbridled admiration for these cows that have found freedom and are still out there, frolicking about. While we overcomplicate things, these cows are learning to jump fences.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2022.

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press

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