A small town, $500M, and the NAFTA court battle

Last weekend, women in Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia organized a Women’s March.  The Sandy Cove Women’s March garnered international attention last year as one of the smallest marches in the international event to show strength and solidarity for women’s rights in the face of the Trump presidency.Sandy Cove holds a special place in my heart, as it was there that I met Carol and Ashraf Mahtab in their lovely home, and around a beautiful lunch table with the people who were dedicated to stopping the Digby Quarry.To a person, everyone there – men and women – were committed to “Stop the Quarry” and protect the environment upon which their community relied. A place that is home to the endangered right whale, sustainable fishing and tourism, and the highest tides in the world. One that was threatened by the blasting, massive bulk carriers, and pollution that the quarry would bring.It was no surprise to me that people in Sandy Cove would organize a Women’s March along the highway that connects communities along the fragile spit of land referred to as Digby Neck. It was that type of community spirit, sense of responsibility, and gumption that stopped the Digby Quarry in the first place.On Monday, our lawyers with Ecojustice will be representing us and East Coast Environmental Law (ECELAW) as we fight for the decision to reject the quarry to be upheld. Because even though an environmental assessment panel recommended the rejection of the quarry and our federal and provincial leaders accepted that recommendation, the US company wanting to build the quarry went to a NAFTA Tribunal to have that decision overturned and get compensation.In a strange confluence of events, our court date is happening just as the latest NAFTA re-negotiations wrap up in Montreal.On the table on Monday in court will be $500 million that Bilcon is requesting from Canada to compensate them for having their project rejected.Also on the table will be our ability to determine if proposed projects, be they quarries or pipelines, are more damaging to the environment than they are worth.In Montreal, on the table is our ability to keep climate commitments. And the continued existence of trade tribunals such as the one that found in favour of Bilcon – which allow foreign companies to go beyond our courts and ask for pay-outs when they don’t get their projects approved.It is exasperating to me that even though Canada is the most sued country under NAFTA’s investor-state processes, and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates these tribunals have cost us $314 million in payouts and legal fees, Canada is fighting to maintain these tribunals. While Canada has committed to improving environmental assessment processes and climate goals, why are we pushing for investor-state provisions that will subvert these commitments?The Digby Quarry first came on our radar in 2002. To our great relief, it was rejected after its environmental assessment in 2007. Bilcon brought its case to a NAFTA Tribunal in 2008. The Tribunal found in favour of Bilcon in 2015. The Canadian government’s case asking the federal court to “set aside” the NAFTA Tribunal’s decision began a few months after the NAFTA Tribunal’s ruling. We were eager to join the case as interveners, and to argue for Canada’s ability to carry out environmental assessments and make decisions based on their findings. Meanwhile, even as we fight for the decision to be set aside, the NAFTA Tribunal has yet to hold its separate hearings on how much Canada owes the company.Yes, it’s been a long and winding road from Sandy Cove to the federal Court in Ottawa on Monday of next week, but we are anxious to enter the fray once again to protect Digby Neck.Like the 32 people who set out along the country highway in Sandy Cove last week, we are determined. And, like them, we know actions big and small can make a difference.  We know that we are small in comparison to the global corporate forces we are facing. But we have something they don’t have. Our right to a safe and healthy planet. And each other.Thank you for being there for this long journey.Gretchen FitzgeraldNational Program Director   We are engaged in some serious legal challenges at the moment – this particular NAFTA challenge through Federal Court, and our on-going court challenges to stop harmful oil and gas exploration in our coastal waters. Your contributions to our Legal Fund will allow us to maintain important ground at the highest levels. Your support allows to take on this difficult and rewarding legal work. Thank you!