Octogenarian battles JTF 2 over farm - Macleans.ca

Octogenarian battles JTF 2 over farm

Despite an emotional appeal, the feds are buying Frank Meyers’ farm for a top-secret training ground

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At war with the feds

Photograph by Colin O'Connor

The verdict was never really in doubt; if the government wants to buy your land, selling is the only real option. But for Frank Meyers and his family, the official confirmation was no less devastating: their beloved farm, more than two centuries old, will indeed be transformed into a top-secret training ground for JTF 2, the Canadian military’s elite special forces squad.

“I am of the opinion that the properties proposed for expropriation are absolutely essential for the safety and security of Canada,” reads the final decision from Ottawa, signed by Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose. “For that reason and in absence of valid justification to do otherwise, I have confirmed my intention to expropriate.”

The paperwork, obtained by Maclean’s, marks the end of a long, public battle that pitted a piece of Canadian history against modern-day national security. The direct descendant of Capt. John Walden Meyers—a Loyalist war hero and the founder of Belleville, Ont.—Frank Meyers has spent seven decades farming the very same plot of land that King George III bestowed on his famous forefather as gratitude for his service during the American Revolution. (Ironically enough, Capt. Meyers was the 18th-century version of a special-forces commando, most famous for leading a late-night raid on the home of an American general. Patriot children actually believed he was the bogeyman. If you don’t behave, their mothers would say, Capt. Meyers “will come and eat you.”)

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In 2007, nearly 200 years after the captain died, the feds started buying out Frank’s neighbours directly north of CFB Trenton, all part of an ambitious plan to construct a massive, cutting-edge headquarters for Joint Task Force 2. Meyers, now 84, vowed he would never sell, leaving Ottawa no other choice but to file a notice of expropriation.

In April, at an emotional public hearing, the family urged Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to spare their 220 acres (or at least part of it) because of its sentimental value. They also argued that the Defence Department already had plenty of land to build its training centre. “My forefathers fought for this country and helped make it what it is today: a country of compromise, commitment and understanding,” said Frank’s son, John Meyers. “Canada is about rights and freedoms—the right to own property and the freedom to enjoy it to the fullest.” When his daughter spoke, Frank couldn’t control his tears. “I cannot begin to imagine what he is feeling right now, thinking about his life-long hard labour,” said Elaine Meyers Steiginga. “Only for it to be gone with just a signature.”

Rona Ambrose was unmoved. In her report, the minister said that although “no details of the proposed facility may be disclosed,” every last acre (except the house and a couple of nearby buildings) is required. “The Meyers family will receive fair compensation for their ownership interests and may utilize proceeds to continue farming on available replacement lands of similar or superior quality,” she wrote.

Frank Meyers is still waiting to find out exactly how much “fair compensation” will be—and whether his fight is truly over. “We have to see if there are any other avenues to try to change their minds or stop it,” his son said. “We’re holding out a small amount of hope.”