P.E.I. potato farmers get partial win in steep slope case appeal

Ryan Ross rross@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 24, 2016

Potato farmers Alex Docherty, left, and Blake MacDonald, walk to the P.E.I. Provincial Court in Charlottetown in this file photo.

©Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

The two farmers fighting convictions for planting potatoes on a slope that was too steep won a partial victory in the P.E.I. Court of Appeal.

In a unanimous decision written by Justice John Mitchell, the appeals court quashed Blake MacDonald’s conviction, but upheld Alex Docherty’s.

Docherty is chairman of the P.E.I. Potato Board and MacDonald is his brother in law.

After a four-day trial in 2013, a provincial court judge found the farmers guilty of cultivating a row crop on a slope that was too steep.

She fined both men $3,150 each.

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They appealed and a P.E.I. Supreme Court judge upheld the convictions.

That led to a further appeal, which the P.E.I. Court of Appeals heard on Dec. 10, 2015.

At issue was the definition of the word cultivate.


Docherty had signed a Canadian Food Inspection Agency growers declaration and an application for crop insurance through the P.E.I. Agriculture Insurance Corporation.

Those documents were used to convict the farmers as evidence they were involved in cultivation.

There was no evidence the two were in the field in any of the activities the Environmental Protection Act included in the definition of the word cultivate.

The appellants argued the definition couldn’t include all matters related to farming and the appeals court agreed.

However, the court also found Docherty’s signatures on documents were an admission that he was a grower and that the potatoes were his crop.

The appeals court ruled the provincial court judge erred in extending the interpretation of the word “cultivate” to include administrative tasks like applying for crop insurance.

Despite that finding, the judges upheld Docherty’s conviction.

They quashed MacDonald’s conviction, with Mitchell saying the evidence against him didn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty.   


Environmental Protection Act definition of cultivate:

Cultivate means to dig, plant, cut, prune, irrigate, fertilize, tend, till, manage, farm, maintain, spray, plough, harvest or engage in any other activity related to growing or harvesting and cultivation means the act of doing any of the above.