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Fighting fisherman gives a personal face to debt crisis

Chances are you've seen Paul Eraser's many signs posted throughout the Cape Breton regional Municipality. Fraser, a fisherman, claims that the Royal Bank made an error on his loan, which led to the seizure of his boat, the loss of his home, and personal bankruptcy. For the past three years, Fraser has been posting signs and picketing local RBC Branches, as he did recently in Glace Bay.
A Cape Breton fisherman has taken a vocal public stand against the Royal Bank of Canada after a series of events in 1999-2000 that led to the seizure of his fishing vessel, his home, and numerous items of his personal property.

Paul Fraser of New Waterford, NS, has travelled throughout the province discussing his case for the past several years, speaking to lawyers, law-makers and the general public. Though often dismissed and disparaged, Fraser is unapologetic and is not about to give up.

"I sleep very well," he says. "This is my way of fighting back."

Fraser took out a $38,000 demand loan from the Royal Bank in November 1999, for which he put up his fishing vessel as collateral. At the time, he was told that the loan was payable over a period of five years, with the first payment (principle plus interest) being due one year after the loan was granted. Ten months later, a letter arrived advising that ten monthly interest payments on the loan were due.

Before this time, Fraser claims that he was unaware of any clause in his loan contract that stipulated monthly interest payments, and would not have agreed to any such stipulations had they been stated.

"I am a seasonal worker," he says, "and cannot afford to make monthly payments during the winter while I'm unemployed."

Shortly after, the Royal Bank seized his boat. Fraser then filed for bankruptcy, and was forced to allow his home mortgage to go into foreclosure. The Royal Bank quickly seized and sold the home, along with lobster traps, lumber, ropes and other fishing equipment, as well as most other items that could be found on the property.

"They even took my kids' toys," said a visibly angry Fraser. "That's what really gets to me."

Throughout his ordeal, Fraser has maintained that there was no reference in his contract to monthly interest payments. The reference to monthly interest payments contained in the terms and conditions of the loan refers back to the monthly interest payment dates that were allegedly stipulated in the contract. He has posted the contract at his website (www.corporatebully.ca) in making this case.

The case was investigated by several lawyers and two bank Ombudsman, all of whom dismissed the case, i.e., by those with direct connections to the Royal Bank. Fraser adamantly maintains that the investigative process "shows a blatant bias" and was "controlled by paid officers of the banking industry."

The indenture of fishermen by finance capital is deepening throughout Atlantic Canada. What is remarkable is how little discussion of the debt crisis there is.

In contrast to Mr Fraser's treatment, when big fish processors go heavily into debt (example of Nickerson-National Sea, Fishery Products and six other vertically-integrated fish companies in the 1984 restructuring; Royal Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia, TD Bank), government steps in to ensure the banks receive their pound of flesh. Through control of debt, and interlocking directorships, the banks are dominant players in fisheries and offshore oil, heavily involved in everything right down to the United Maritime Fishermen cooperative, for whom Royal handled the bulk of vessel loans. According to a company history, Net Profits: the Story of National Sea, the Royal Bank has been the principal financier of NatSea from its earliest days.

Confident that he will be exonerated by the facts of his case, the unperturbed fisherman insists that "I'm going to keep fighting? I'm not going anywhere." Mr Fraser is now trying to organize a grievance committee to fight for reimbursement for all dissatisfied clients of the Royal Bank.

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