An error on the ticket Wednesday brought a quick end to the case against a Pincher Creek rancher.
Bill Homans was ticketed last fall for operating a commercial vehicle in a prohibited manner while hauling 13 of his neighbour’s cattle to Fort Macleod Auction Market.
The case has drawn heavy criticism from the agricultural community where people are concerned officials are targetting a long-standing practice of neighbours helping neighbours.
The battle fizzled out quickly Wednesday in Fort Macleod provincial court when defence lawyer Patrick Lannan pointed out an error on the ticket.
The officer who wrote the ticket set the date for Homans’ court appearance as Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2011 — not 2012.
“I’m going to ask that that ticket be quashed because of its defect,” Crown prosecutor Bruce Ainscough told Judge Gerald Debow.
Judge Debow complied with the request.
“That may not be the end of it,” Ainscough said, noting the officer can choose to re-issue the ticket.
Homans had mixed feelings about the outcome.
“It was almost a letdown, but at the same time it felt good to have it over with,” Homans said in an interview. “But there was really nothing resolved.”
Homans is concerned that kind of a ticket threatens the rural community.
“I still don’t think I broke any law,” Homans said. “Friends and neighbours help friends and neighbours all the time.”
“The rural communities survive by helping one another. It seems strange there would be any kind of rule that wouldn’t let you do that.”
Homans was stopped by an Alberta Transportation officer near Fort Macleod Auction Market and issued a ticket that carries a $354 penalty.
Homans was following his neighbour, who also had steers loaded in a stock trailer.
“The fellow in question who owned the cattle couldn’t get them all on,” Homans said. “He called and asked if I would help.”
Alberta laws allow farmers and ranchers to haul someone else’s livestock from grazing lease to grazing lease provided no compensation is paid.
The law does not address animals being hauled to the auction market.
The idea that provincial officials would interfere with what is traditional practice on farms and ranches drew the ire of Lannan, a lawyer whose practice is in Claresholm.
“I read about the case and I called and volunteered my services,” Lannan said Wednesday outside the court house.
Lannan, who was a rancher before earning his law degree, was eager to fight the ticket on behalf of Homans, free of charge.
“It was just stupid,” Lannan said of the officer’s decision to issue the ticket. “Neighbours have been helping neighbours doing this for years and years.”
Beyond the principle that is involved, Lannan said Homans has a legal case with which to fight the ticket.
“I see no legislation that would have allowed this thing to proceed,” Lannan said.
Lannan said there are no grounds to classify a farm truck and stock trailer as a commercial vehicle.
“He (Homans) is a rancher driving a ranch truck, and they’re trying to classify it as a commercial vehicle,” Lannan said.
Homans was surprised at the outpouring of support he received.
“It hit the rural people,” Homans said. “Everybody was shocked and surprised this wasn’t allowed.”
Homans expressed his appreciation for the offers of financial support for a legal battle, and for Lannan for taking on the case for free.
Homans even received a call from a commercial trucker who lives north of Yorkton, Sask. who supports the right of ranchers to help neighbours haul cattle.
Cattle producers at a zone meeting at the Fort Macleod Auction Market approved a resolution that the Alberta Beef Producers investigate and report on “goodwill” regulations trucking of livestock.
The Alberta Cattle Feeders Association is also preparing a resolution.
“I don’t think the whole thing is completely done,” said Homans, who has discussed the matter with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Even Berger and MD of Pincher Creek reeve and council.
While the ticket being quashed on Wednesday was a victory of sorts for Homans, Lannan is chomping at the bit for the chance to argue the principle of law.
“I’d love to fight this one,” Lannan said. “I think it’s wrong.”
Homans admitted he was gun shy about volunteering his services to haul cattle right after he got the ticket, but that feeling passed.
“Yes,” Homans said when asked if he will help when is neighbours call. “I don’t think it (ticket) is going to change anything.”