Above: The family of 85-year-old Frank Meyers has owned and farmed his land for 215 years, but he’s been threatened with losing it to the Canadian government for the last seven. Jennifer Tryon has his story.
TORONTO – The family of 85-year-old Frank Meyers has owned and farmed his land for 215 years, but he’s been threatened with losing it to the Canadian government for the last seven.
“I’m just trying to hold my ground and keep it,” he said. “I’m not giving them an inch.”
Despite declarations of standing his ground, military police are stationed outside his barns with “No Trespassing” signs to make sure he doesn’t enter. Police were also called when Global News reporter Jennifer Tryon was on the property, interviewing Meyers.
Meyers said the land was donated from the King George III of England in 1798 to his family “perpetually” and they’ve been there ever since. He grows corn, beans, peas, hay, oats and barley.
But CFB Trenton and the Department of National Defence (DND) are expropriating the farmland to build a new training and administrative campus for the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM).
The government took control of the farming buildings about a year and a half ago, but Meyers still lives in the “old house on our side of the railroad tracks.”
“It’s an awful toll on me. It’s just stress… That’s what they’re trying to do, they hope I’ll drop dead.”
The spokesperson for Minister of National Defence Rob Nicholson said the expropriation was “critically important to the country and to the local community.”
“The Government of Canada has approached this land expropriation with great sensitivity and has offered Mr. Meyers full compensation for the property,” wrote Julie Di Mambro in an email to Global News. “This project will inject millions of dollars into the local economy and bring hundreds of well-paying jobs.”
National Defence spokesperson Jennifer St. Germain told Global News that an extensive options analysis study concluded Meyers’ farmland, north of 8 Wing Trenton, would “best meet the Canadian Forces’ future requirements.” She noted that because it’s close to 8 Wing Trenton and Hwy. 401, the site allows for “rapid” air and ground response when necessary.
Meyers owns 200 acres of farmland, including close to 60 acres of woods, which the government considers part of the farms.
He said he was approached to sell the land for market value about seven years ago, but he refused the offer. Now he says he’s lost about 235 acres to the DND.
“I said, ‘no, I’m not interested’…No money changed hands…what good’s money to me? I can’t eat money!” he said. “Across Canada I’m fighting for everyone to have food on their table in years to come,” he said. “So they just…put the expropriation laws, but stole it!”
But municipal lawyer Stephen D’Agostino said the government has been acting in accordance with expropriation law; the rule by which the government is allowed to take your land against your will for compensation.
“I certainly feel for him and his family given the generations that they’ve invested into this property, but the way expropriation law works in Canada—that just doesn’t count,” he said.
D’Agostino explained the military base would qualify as being in the public interest, and that a minister has already accepted the expropriation at a hearing meant to determine whether it was a proper expropriation. But he calls the whole thing “a bit of a sham process.”
“If the report said the expropriation should not happen, the minister would read the report and come to the minister’s own determination as to whether or not they would go ahead anyway,” he said, adding that landowners barely receive any funding to cover the proceedings.
Now, Meyers’ only hope is if Minister of Public Works Diane Finley overturns the original decision to expropriate the land. But DND is taking the lead, and Finley’s office said it is undertaking DND’s request to procure the land needed for the training centre.
Meanwhile, Meyers is quickly gaining support: the “Stop the Harper government and the DND from taking the Meyers Farm” online petition has earned more than 5,400 signatures, and a Facebook group to save the farm includes photos of support (in the gallery above) from farming communities across Ontario.
“I just don’t know what’s going to happen now,” said Meyers. “All the minister of national defence has to say is ‘Leave them alone’…Harper, that’s all you’ve got to do, say, ‘Forget about it, leave him alone.’”
With a report from Jennifer Tryon
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected Nov. 29 at 11:25 a.m. to say DND is taking the lead on the expropriation, and Finley’s office said it is undertaking DND’s request to procure the land needed for the training centre. The article originally said Finley’s office was looking into whether the decision would ultimately fall to Finley, since it’s a Public Works proceeding.