Montreal

Quebec maple syrup rebel takes case to Supreme Court

Angèle Grenier imagined retiring on the profits of her maple farm, but she's ended up paying more than $100,000 in legal fees after Quebec's Maple Syrup Producers Federation took her to court for selling her syrup to New Brunswick.

Angèle Grenier imagined retiring on the profits of her farm. Now she's fighting to keep it

Angèle Grenier said she owes about $400,000 in fines to the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. (Radio-Canada)

After losing her case in Quebec's highest court, the province's most infamous maple syrup producer is taking her fight to sell her product freely to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Angèle Grenier imagined retiring on the profits of her maple farm, but she's ended up paying more than $100,000 in legal fees after Quebec's Maple Syrup Producers Federation took her to court for selling her syrup to New Brunswick.

The federation exists to enforce a supply management system — including regulating quotas and prices — of maple syrup production in Quebec. It has existed for fifty years, initially created to market and effectively sell syrup to the rest of the world.

Quebec is home to 7,000-odd syrup producers, supplying 94 per cent of the country's maple syrup, and 70 per cent of the world's supply.

Forced to hand over syrup

Grenier's legal troubles began in 2002, when she started selling syrup in bulk to a buyer in New Brunswick. The federation took her to court, resulting in an injunction forcing her to hand over her product to the federation.

Three years ago, bailiffs came to her farm and seized her syrup. Grenier said representatives from the federation still come onto her farm and seal barrels of syrup, even when she's not home.

I don't even dare think about the future. I wouldn't be able to sleep.- Angèle Grenier

"Our home isn't even our home anymore," she said.

Other producers, including Eastern Townships farmer Robert Hodge, 69, have also faced fines for selling product elsewhere. Hodge said he's paid more than $100,000 for selling his product in Ontario. In 2015, the federation sent security guards to his farm for over a month.

"We had them there day and night, 24 hours a day. Two 12-hour shifts — whether the sap ran or it didn't, they sat in their vehicle all night," he said.

Grenier's belief that she should be able to sell her syrup independently drove her to take her case to the country's highest court. But her fight has taken a financial toll, and now she's crowdfunding her legal fees under the banner "Maple syrup is not a crime." 

She's received about two dozen donations, most of them humble. They range from $5 to $150.

Angèle Grenier is crowdfunding her legal fees, hoping the Supreme Court of Canada allow her to sell her syrup to whomever she wants. (Radio-Canada)

Rebels don't represent majority, says federation

Simon Trépanier, the federation's president, said the organization uses the money it takes from producers to bolster international markets and ensure there's enough syrup to meet demand.

Trépanier also said he believes the rebels are a small proportion of producers overall. He insists production continues to grow in Quebec, despite increased production in the United States and other provinces.

"Americans, they don't want basically to steal our markets and Canadians, they also don't want to steal markets from the Americans. We all have the space to develop and this is exactly what we are looking for," he said.

'Slavery is not an overstatement'

Grenier's lawyer said he'll work for free if necessary.

"It's expropriation. I mean, they don't even control their work," said Hans Mercier. "Slavery is not an overstatement as far as I'm concerned."

If the court rules against her again, she risks losing her livelihood. In addition to her legal fees, Grenier faces fines from the federation totaling around $400,000.

"I don't even dare think about the future. I wouldn't be able to sleep," she said.

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