40

The last man standing

After years of fighting to keep his home, Frank Meyers has no choice but to bend to the government’s will


 

Photograph by Cole Garside

Like his legendary forefather, Frank Meyers is not afraid of a good fight. Or a long one. For seven years now, he has been battling the federal government, refusing, at every turn, to part with his beloved family land: 90 hectares of prime soil in Quinte West, Ont., directly north of Canadian Forces Base Trenton. “I’ve lived on this farm for 85 years, worked it all my life, and I don’t know why the government wants to throw us out,” Meyers says, standing near his latest crop of corn. “It’s my heritage. Leave me alone.”

Meyers honestly believed that if he kept refusing to sell, Ottawa would do just that: leave him alone. But the master plan was never in doubt. The Meyers land, and 11 other pieces of property, will soon be transformed into a state-of-the-art, 400-hectare headquarters for Joint Task Force 2, the Canadian military’s elite anti-terrorism squad. And after so many years, so many sleepless nights, it appears Frank Meyers has no choice but to finally surrender. A recent letter from the federal justice department says he must be off the property by Sept. 30 because “demolition crews will be attending the site” on Oct. 1.

“It’s an awful stress on me,” he says, dressed in jeans and a blue shirt. “They’re waiting for me to drop dead. That’s what they want.”

For Maclean’s readers, Meyers’s saga is a familiar one. The direct descendant of Capt. John Walden Meyers, a Loyalist war hero, Frank farms the very same plot of land King George III bestowed on his famous relative for his service during the American Revolution. A giant man with fire-red hair and a knack for infiltrating enemy lines, the captain was, ironically enough, the 18th-century equivalent of a special forces commando. Two hundred years later, some of the stories have morphed into myth (according to one tale, he wore moccasins that were pointy at both ends so his footprints couldn’t be tracked), but historians do agree on one detail: To patriot children, he was the bogeyman. If you don’t behave, their mothers would say, Capt. Meyers “will come and eat you.”

Today, Capt. Meyers is remembered as the founding father of nearby Belleville, where his exploits are engraved on a town plaque: “Meyers was one of many Loyalists whose defeat in war led to the beginnings of a permanent settlement in what is now Ontario.”

In 2006, when federal bureaucrats first started knocking on doors, Frank Meyers dug in for a war of his own, one of numerous owners vowing to fight the air-base expansion and keep their homes. But, as his neighbours weighed their options—sell now, or be expropriated later—they slowly began to cave, one by one. “It was devastating,” one neighbour told Maclean’s in 2009. “But we were in their way. The bottom line is: They’re going to take it, so you have to co-operate.”

Meyers adamantly refused to negotiate, and, in May 2012, Ottawa did the inevitable. The expropriation papers described his land as “absolutely essential for the safety and security of Canada.”

Although the property now officially belongs to the state—and the final selling price is still under negotiation—the Meyers family has been given nearly 18 months to empty their sheds and vacate the land. But, as Oct. 1 looms large, they still aren’t willing to concede defeat. “We always hold out hope that we’ll be able to keep the property and continue on with what we’ve been doing all our lives,” says Frank’s son, John. “I don’t think we’ll ever give up until we are absolutely out.”

Rick Norlock, the local Conservative MP, says he sympathizes with the family. He understands their connection to the land, and why they didn’t want to sell—at any price. But the base expansion, he says, will inject millions of dollars and thousands of jobs into an economically depressed region that desperately needs it. “Nobody is happy in scenarios like this,” Norlock says, sitting in his Cobourg office, a 40-minute drive from the Meyers farm. “Everybody would like the world to remain the way it is for them and for their families forever, but the reality is there is an Air Force base there. There was a decision to expand it. It is good for the area. It is not good for a couple of people.”

When Norlock was first elected in 2006, he campaigned on a promise to bring more troops to CFB Trenton. He made the same promise when he was re-elected in 2008 and again in 2011. “The vast majority of my constituents want this to go ahead sooner rather than later,” he says. “I’m going to be frank with you: I’m at the point where I’m saying, enough is enough already. Let’s get this training facility built and let’s get JTF-2 here.”

In fact, Norlock says the government would have expropriated the Meyers land much sooner, had it not been for Stephen Harper. “I was anxious for this to go ahead, and the Prime Minister convinced me that we need to be more conciliatory; we need to try and do this the right way,” he says.

But any patience the Prime Minister had has long expired and, as the final deadline approaches, Frank Meyers doesn’t want to talk about what might happen when the sun rises on Oct. 1. “I have no idea,” he says. “What I do, I’ll never tell, until the day comes.”


 

The last man standing

  1. If we had property rights in our Constitution, such expropriations would be a lot harder.

    • The US and the UK also have this power to expropriate….along with private property.

      • In fact the fifth amendment allows for exactly the kind of thing happening to the poor fellow. These things happen, it must be difficult to give up a cherished family property, but it’s only sensible that public works be able to be built for everyone’s benefit, as long as everyone is fairly compensated for what they must give up.

        • Yeah, can’t allow one person to hold up progress.

          Mind you, in China they just build around them. Eventually the person gets tired of the inconvenience and ashamed of the shabbiness and sells out anyway.

          • This isn’t progress. A new highway, bridge or airport is one thing. A new unnecessary base when DND has plenty of land already is simply wasteful.

          • JTF isn’t, no. But the mechanism exists legitimately, no matter what the proposal.

  2. So much for the rights of the individual. Conservatives should be ashamed.

    • Every government, federal, provincial, or municipal, will expropriate when it deems it necessary. This isn’t unique to the current federal government.

      • The sad part is that if he was Native we would not be having this conversation and he would not be leaving his farmland.

        • that is so true…..wrong but true

  3. Tyranny of the majority. Shame on you Mr. Norlock.

    “Rick Norlock, the local Conservative MP, says he sympathizes with the
    family. He understands their connection to the land, and why they didn’t
    want to sell—at any price. But the base expansion, he says, will inject
    millions of dollars and thousands of jobs into an economically
    depressed region that desperately needs it. “Nobody is happy in
    scenarios like this,” Norlock says, sitting in his Cobourg office, a
    40-minute drive from the Meyers farm. “Everybody would like the world to
    remain the way it is for them and for their families forever, but the
    reality is there is an Air Force base there. There was a decision to
    expand it. It is good for the area. It is not good for a couple of
    people.”

    • It will inject millions of borrowed dollars into Trenton and extract millions from other present an future tax payers. Hardly something to be proud of.

  4. “…military’s elite anti-terrorism squad…”
    Shame on Canada, they’re going the American military way.

    • Typical knee-jerk slam at America. What major western country does not have an “elite anti-terrorism squad”? How many countries allow the government to expropriate private property for the “public good”? How about if everyone makes hypocrisy synonymous with Canada. I can certainly cite plenty of examples of Canada preaching high and acting low.

      • How many countries allow the government to expropriate private property for the “public good”?

        pretty much all of them.

  5. This is absolutely disgraceful. Apart from the injustice there is the stupidity of the move. JTF 2 could move to Petawawa- where CSOR is already based, 90 minutes from the Dwyer Hill facility, location of the CH-47F helicopters and lots of ranges for the firing of any weapons they have. There is no practical reason JTF-2 couldn’t move to Pet if their Ottawa facility is just too small (why we have two SOF ground combat units in a force as small as the CF is another question). We often hear about how JTF-2 must be secret. If so then a move onto an existing base would seem to be a better choice than taking over a farm. The government is blowing several hundred million dollars of borrowed money on this at a time when the army is scaling back training due to cut backs. Nothing about this move makes any sense.

    • Petawawa would be the worst choice. Too far from the airlift. Canada’s a big country and those C17s are sitting in Trenton. Canadian Airborne Regiment spent years riding the buses to the Hercs in Trenton. Tthat’s why they were based in Edmonton in the first place. Last I checked, Trenton sits on Lake Ontario – think that might be helpful training for a maritime role?
      Do a bit of historical research – CF appears not to want to make the same mistake twice.

  6. While on the topic of JTF-2 perhaps now is the time to remove the secrecy the unit is shrouded in. It’s unhealthy for a democracy to have secret military units. All units- army, navy, air force and SOF must have operational secrecy before combat missions but once that need to maintain surprise is finished the books should be open.

    I expect someone to reply that JTF-2 needs secrecy to protect it’s members from retaliation. That begs the question as to why the rest of the army can have parades open to the public. Did 1 RCR not harm anyone during it’s missions in Kandahar? If a terrorist couldn’t find JTF-2 (unlikely since they’ll soon be at Frank Meyer’s farm and the nearest Boston Pizza) why wouldn’t they just attack another CF facility?

    The real reason for secrecy is to hide budget extravagance including SOF HQ bloat. It also hides lack of activity while allowing the PM to say “JTF is there” which allows the pro-militray gang’s imaginations run wild with images of daring-do. There is also the possibility that this secrecy could allow a PM to provide support to less than savory regimes or allow Canadian troops to become involved with other countries SOF in activities they ought not to.

    Perhaps the actual solution is to disband CANSOFCOM HQ, transfer all gthe SOF units to control of the army, amalgamate CSOR and JTF-2 in Pet and keep the HR team in Ottawa. That should save a couple hundred million dollars.

    • What do you have against the CF. I notice you comment on military matters on a lot of blogs. I maybe wrong but it seems to me you have never said anything positive. The CF and DND do a lot of things wrong but they do do some good which should be acknowledged. If all you do is complain it sounds like sour grapes or something and people will start to tune you out

      • You are wrong but since this article is about JTF-2s confiscation of a man’s home what do you expect? Applause?

        DND has a large well funded public affairs branch that is quite able and willing to give it’s pro-DND, side of the story. It’s their job to push out the positive spin. If DND doesn’t want to be criticized then it should stop doing wasteful, incompetent and stupid things. If there’s lots of that to comment on then that’s DND’s fault. The government’s hints that defence procurement needs a complete overhaul, the debacle in Afghanistan, Leslie’s discovery of $1 billion in waste just in the military side of NDHQ and Rick Hillier’s calls for a 25% cut in the regular force indicate something is very, very wrong in defence.

        BTW rather than shoot the messenger do you dispute anything I’ve written?

      • Probably signed on for infantry and couldn’t make the cut lol

    • Well the point of secrecy is….secrecy.

      The US has never figured this out and routinely announces things….and even SAYS they’re secret

      I remember one time they had Soviets there watching a launch….a secret launch

      The UK does lots of things no one ever hears about. They take secrecy seriously.

      Mind you….in peacetime, and in a peacekeeping nation….JTF2 should not exist. Secretly or openly.

      • Then you don’t have them when you need them.

        • We don’t need them.

      • I guess it’s good we aren’t a peacekeeping anymore….

        • We should be….we’re good at it. Renowned for it.

  7. Buy other land elsewhere and carry on.

    No problems, then.

  8. “When Norlock was first elected in 2006, he campaigned on a promise to bring more troops to CFB Trenton.”

    He might as well have bought votes in the local taverns. Of course in every other riding the candidates were also promising to pay off their supporters with other Canadian’s money (after taking their cut).

    • “Government” is nothing more than the trading of forcibly confiscated money/resources/labour in return for political power and a cut of the ill-gotten gains. Almost all people, to varying degrees, think of themselves and their neighbours as children to be “managed” and “protected” (at gunpoint) by this quasi-parental idol or earthly deity. In reality, it is just one group of individuals telling everyone else what to do or not do. The problem is that 99.99% of the world’s population believes in the legitimacy of this form of slavery.

      This story is a perfect illustration of the predatory nature of this idol.

    • Numlock, as he’s known by the locals, is an idiot, and the only reason he is re-elected is because of this open trawling for votes in the east end of his riding. Thankfully the riding will be split soon, and those of us in the west end of Northumberland will be rid of this useless excuse of an MP. Shame Shame

  9. Harper’s on secure road to dictatorship – ie. Nazism.

    • Save “Nazis” for people with plans for genocide. In this case the government is being wasteful and stupid- hardly the Third Reich.

  10. Other news bemoaned the loss of farmland in Ontario. Should we really be converting the little workable farmland we have in Canada? Do we really want to be absolutely dependent upon foreign countries for our food?

    • Exactly….we need to cherish and support the farms that we do have……

  11. Government bullies should have their heads removed will great fanfare

  12. I move we boot the Harpers out of their home and off their land.

  13. I think it’s disgusting…:(…I am so sorry that this is how we treat people…an embarrassment.

  14. “Everybody would like the world to remain the way it is for them and for their families forever, but the reality is there is an Air Force base there.
    There was a farm there long before there was an air force base. Stupid bureaucrats!

  15. If DND doesn’t want to be criticized then it should stop doing wasteful, incompetent and stupid things.
    Peter MacKay is gone. That was pretty smart. :)

  16. There is a lot better things the government could be doing than kicking a farmer that has been doing it all his life, off his land. Shame on them. Do they want to eat? or do they just want to get re-elecdted for another term? it is horrible… leave the guy alone.

Sign in to comment.