Monday, August 20, 2012

Kamenz accused of misleading egg lawyer

Lawyer Don Good, acting for Svante Lind, owner of Verified Eggs and former owner of Best Choice Eggs, says Geri Kamenz, chairman of the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission, misled him about the status of Good’s request for an inquiry into the egg industry.

And Good also says Kamenz and commission staff consulted closely with the Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board about the allegations of wrongdoing in the egg industry, but didn’t consult him or Lind for their comments on the issues.

The allegations, first outlined by Norman Bourdeau, who was information technology officer for L.H. Gray and Sons Ltd., include:

-     -  cheating on egg grading.

-     -  collusion among the marketing board, Gray and Burnbrae Farms Ltd. to make business difficult for Lind and his Best Choice Eggs.

-      - e-mail discussions between Gray and Burnbrae about reducing competition to maintain higher wholesale egg prices.

In early August, 2012, Good wrote to Kamenz seeking a meeting to discuss his request for an inquiry. Good said he is acting for Verified Eggs which has no lawsuits pending; that negates the commission's excuses that it won't investigate matters under litigation.

Kamenz declined the dates Good mentioned, saying the commission “continues to consider the request for an investigation."

Kamenz said the same thing to me.

In fact, however, according to minutes of a commission meeting more than 16 months earlier, on March 30, 2011, the commission approved a motion to “refuse the request to consider a public inquiry and decline at this time to investigate the specific allegations that are subject of the request.”

Kamenz wrote to Good in August that the commission would be considering the request for an investigation and/or public inquiry when it would meet in September.

Good says that in misleading him, Kamenz denied him the opportunity to file an appeal.

Good has made Premier Dalton McGuinty aware of the situation.

A large number of documents has been released to Bourdeau, who filed a Freedom-of-Information request, and they show that the commission and the egg board were in close and friendly contact many times over the egg-industry issues and the lawsuit Good filed against Gray, Burnbrae and the Egg Board on behalf of Lind and Best Choice Eggs.

In his August reply to Good’s request for a meeting, Kamenz wrote “Unfortunately, it will not be possible to set up a meeting those weeks. The Commission is not scheduled to meet again until the third week of September and I am not in a position to discuss the Commission's position untll after the Commission has had an opportunity to discuss the Petition at its September meeting.

‘The two letters, including your request for a meeting with the Commission, will be presented to the
Commission for consideration at its next scheduled meeting.

‘At the meeting, the Commission will also be asked to consider and provide further clarification of its position on the status of the request for investigation, so that this position can be provided in writing to you and your clients and Mr. Bourdeau, shortly after the Commission meeting.

‘Therefore it would not be appropriate to initiate any type of appeal at this time.”

It's that last sentence that is one of Good's current complaints about Kamenz.

In April, Kamenz wrote to Carolynn Griffith, then chair of the Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board, asking the board to “develop written operational policies and procedures on specified matters for the commission’s consideration.”

He said these policies and procedures would take effect “going forward” once accepted by the commission.

The list of requests speaks to many of the points outlined in the allegations and request for a public inquiry, such as how the egg board deals with rumours of cheating on egg grading, how it deals with applications to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade for permission to import eggs, how it seeks eggs to fill those markets, how it responds to complaints and how it polices the collection of levies and licence fees.

The documents released to Bourdeau also indicate that the commission contacted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency about the allegations of cheating on egg grading.

Dr. Brian Evans, chief food safety and veterinary officer, replied that the matter was under investigation, but the release of information to the commission would be subject to limits under the Privacy Act.

The correspondence also indicates that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada undertook a survey to determine the incidence of cracked eggs and that Health Canada undertook a review of its food safety standards regarding cracked eggs.

That survey was to be completed by the end of April, 2011. 

There are documents indicating that the commission briefed the agriculture minister about how many egg producers are in her riding and recommended she make no comment on the allegations pending the outcome Lind’s lawsuit and lawsuits Gray filed against Bourdeau.

Gray’s lawyer, Alison Webster, wrote the commission saying Gray believes “the (egg-grading) information (in Bourdeau's allegations) has been manipulated such that it is unreliable and entirely without foundation.”

She did not provide any documentation to back that opinion. 

Bourdeau cited thousands of electronic egg-grading documents to back his allegation of cheating on egg grading.