NAFTA is a dirty word, especially around Sandy Cove on Digby Neck, Nova Scotia. Back in 2007, people in Sandy Cove won a years-long fight to stop a quarry from being built in their backyards. Months after this incredible win, in which a joint federal-provincial environmental assessment actually stopped a project from happening, quarry company Bilcon filed a suit under the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Chapter 11, claiming that the company was treated unfairly because it is American and didn’t know about particular details of Nova Scotia’s environmental assessment process.
After a long and successful fight to keep Bilcon out of their community, people in Sandy Cove are stepping up again to fight off a NAFTA investor state dispute settlement panel. It was incredible to see that after years of fighting, people were still willing to spend a beautiful afternoon this past Sunday learning about what exactly the NAFTA panel could do and how we can fight it. Noah Richler and Sarah McLaughlan graciously opened up their seaside home for an information session to update the community. Just being there made it clear exactly what people were fighting for: a strong community, and a beautiful and plentiful environment.
Another reason to be inspired by the people I met on Sunday: their work fighting Bilcon and this NAFTA case is so critical that Anne-Marie Mineur, Member of European Parliament from the Netherlands, joined the meeting, too. She is in the thick of CETA and TTIP negotiations in Europe, and doesn’t have much experience in dealing with damaging international trade deals and the investor state clause so famous for making NAFTA a terrible deal for communities like Sandy Cove.
For cases like this, where companies argue that they were treated unfairly because of a particular domestic law, a tribunal is struck with representatives from each Canada, the US, and Mexico to determine if damages are owed, and if so, how much. Last year this panel decided that yes, Bilcon was treated unfairly, and yes, the Government of Canada owes Bilcon money.
It’s possible at this point that Canada will settle with Bilcon outside of the tribunal process. If this happened, it would set a precedent for other American or Mexican companies to sue Canada for imposing domestic environmental law, and would signal that Canada is willing to settle out of court instead of fighting for our environment and communities. NAFTA already makes it hard for Canada to make new laws and enforce existing ones that force companies to consider the environment and communities in their projects. If Canada settles with Bilcon companies will feel even more emboldened to use NAFTA to their advantage.
Hope is far from lost, though. East Coast Environmental Law and the Sierra Club Foundation of Canada are taking the NAFTA tribunal to court so that the decision can be overturned. Check out CBC coverage of this issue here, and you want the nitty-gritty details of that, check out this article.
The determination in this community is infectious, and I look forward to supporting folks in Sandy Cove, ECELAW, and the Sierra Club, in succeeding yet again.