Ron Duffy spent 34 days in jail in a protest against Canadian Wheat Board policies, but instead of savouring his first full day of freedom yesterday, the Alberta farmer talked about participating in another protest that could land him back behind bars.
"We just want them to realize that this is not going away," said the 50-year-old grain farmer from Lacombe. "This is not the end of the fight. This is the beginning of a bigger one."
In 1996, Mr. Duffy was among a group of Canadian farmers who drove bushels of wheat and barley into Montana to either donate or sell. But they didn't have the proper paperwork demanded by the CWB and customs.
Western farmers must market their grains through the board, an institution dating back to the Second World War that has become the world's largest seller of wheat and barley.
But an increasingly vocal group of farmers who want the right to sell their products on their own are demanding that the wheat board change its policies or that the federal government intervene to allow voluntary membership.
On Oct. 31, hundreds of people, including Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, showed their support for 13 dissident farmers who turned themselves in at a Lethbridge correctional facility rather than pay fines for their role in the 1996 demonstration.
The last three farmers were released Wednesday night for paying off their fines with time served. Others handed over cash to get out of jail and back to the farm.
"We had tremendous support from the people that we would have gumption enough to go ahead and go to jail for what we thought was right," said 63-year-old Bill Moore of Red Deer, who has spent his life working the land.
Mr. Moore was fined $5,500 for hauling a load of wheat to Montana and selling it without an export permit.
"We could have paid it [the fine] but we just made up our minds that we didn't break any laws," Mr. Moore said.
Their cause was aimed, too, at drawing attention to the election of five new CWB directors. Ballots are now coming back. Some candidates campaigned in favour of holding a referendum on the wheat board's future.
John Turcato, a 42-year-old cattle and grain farmer from Taber who spent 34 days in jail to pay off his fines, said he hopes this high-profile protest might have some influence on the election results. "I think it opened up a lot of eyes and we got a lot more response than we ever thought that we would get," he said.
How would the three farmers describe their taste of life on the inside?
"Pretty much what I expected," Mr. Turcato said. "It's not a place you want to be, but it's not nearly as bad as some things portrayed on TV."
They broke bread with the other prisoners and played basketball and volleyball with them too. They also lived by the same jailhouse rules.
"They told us what we could do and when we could do it and how to do it most of the time," Mr. Moore said.
"Just like the wheat board when they tell you you've got to sell your grain to them and you've got no other place to sell it."
All three agreed that they also earned the respect of the guards and their fellow inmates. And Mr. Duffy said he is willing to go through it all again, although a date and place for another cross-border protest hasn't been nailed down. He's taking names through the http://www.farmersforjustice.com Web site.