National flags representing Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. are lit by stage lights at the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, renegotiations, in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Marco Ugarte

Canada loses NAFTA court challenge, reviving environmental concerns

The government has lost a court bid to overturn a NAFTA ruling involving a Nova Scotia quarry and marine terminal project

The federal government has lost a court bid to overturn a NAFTA ruling involving a Nova Scotia quarry and marine terminal project, sparking renewed concerns about the trade deal’s effects on Canada’s environmental regime.

The U.S. firm that backed the proposed project welcomed the Federal Court of Canada decision, while environmental groups said it highlights how the North American Free Trade Agreement hamstrings Canada’s ability to protect its ecology.

In her decision, Federal Court Justice Anne Mactavish rejected federal arguments that a NAFTA tribunal inappropriately decided questions of Canadian law when it found problems with an environmental review panel process.

RELATED: NAFTA talks hold Foreign Affairs Minister in Washington, substitute heads to NATO summit

Sixteen years ago, American firm Bilcon planned to develop a basalt quarry, processing facility and marine terminal on the Bay of Fundy at Whites Point in southwestern Nova Scotia. The company hoped to ship 40,000 tons of stone to the United States each week for a period of 50 years.

The Nova Scotia and federal governments nixed the project in 2007 after a joint environmental assessment panel said it should not go ahead. The panel concluded the initiative would have a “significant adverse effect” on the surrounding communities, damaging the quality of life.

Bilcon, which had invested considerable time and money in the project, filed a NAFTA challenge under Chapter 11, alleging Canada’s environmental regulatory regime had been applied in an arbitrary, unfair and discriminatory manner.

The NAFTA tribunal found Nova Scotia authorities created expectations the project might proceed as long as federal and provincial environmental laws were respected. The tribunal ruled that the assessment panel indeed acted arbitrarily by effectively creating a new standard of assessment concerning “community core values,” without notice to Bilcon.

RELATED: Canada will not bend to U.S. steel tariff pressure in NAFTA talks: Freeland

After winning at the tribunal, Bilcon said it would seek at least US$300 million in damages from Canada.

Ottawa took the matter to Federal Court, but Mactavish determined the NAFTA tribunal made no errors warranting a reversal of its ruling.

However, she said the tribunal’s decision “raises significant policy concerns,” including its effect on the ability of NAFTA parties to regulate environmental matters, the power of tribunals to properly assess whether foreign investors have been treated fairly, and the potential “chill” in the environmental assessment process that could result from the decision.

The Clayton family of New Jersey, principals of Bilcon, applauded the court decision, calling their experience a “cautionary tale” to both U.S. and Canadian investors who expect reciprocal and fair treatment in both countries.

“Bilcon, a family-owned company that has been in business for more than 50 years, believes the treatment it received was unbecoming of Canada’s reputation as a reliable jurisdiction in which to do business.”

Environmental groups that intervened in the case expressed disappointment and even alarm.

Lisa Mitchell, executive director of East Coast Environmental Law, said the court judgment means that even when the Canadian government makes good decisions to protect the environment, “there’s a chance a NAFTA tribunal could swoop in, decide our environmental laws are ‘unfair,’ and force Canada to pay hundreds of millions of dollars — leaving Canadian taxpayers on the hook and the environment at risk.”

Given that Canada is renegotiating NAFTA and Parliament is evaluating legislation to revamp environmental assessments, the court decision comes at a critical moment, said Gretchen Fitzgerald, Sierra Club Canada’s national programs director.

“Canada must now look to fix NAFTA to protect the environment and the right of Canadians to reject damaging projects by getting rid of Chapter 11.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Drivesmart column: Fear of police retaliation

While I won’t say that this is impossible, I would certainly like to think that it is highly unlikely

Cowichan Div. 2 women out-paced in last match of 2018

Soccer team has second game of the weekend postponed by weather

Robert Barron column: Universal child care good for families, and society

I’m pleased that the province is stepping in to start providing $10-per-day childcare spaces

Lynn’s hat trick gets Caps past Salmon Arm

Cowichan wins second game of Interior road trip

From introducing k.d. lang to honouring Gordon Lightfoot, Cowichan Theatre has had busy 40 years

40-year retrospective has offered theatregoers a glimpse of Cowichan’s entertainment history

VIDEO: Cobble Hill welcomes Christmas with frolicsome show

From lovely carols to humorous skits: a big crowd enjoyed it all on Sunday, Dec. 9

Coming up in Cowichan: Celebrate the second floor with the HUB

Celebrate the second floor this weekend at HUB at Cowichan Station Dec.… Continue reading

Crossword puzzle clues Dec. 14

Oops. Attention all crossword puzzle fans: the clues in the Friday, Dec.… Continue reading

Microscopic parasite found in Prince Rupert water affecting thousands

More than 12,000 residents affected by the boil water advisory issued Dec. 14

Trudeau lashes out at Conservatives over migration “misinformation”

Warning against the “dangers of populism,” Trudeau says using immigration as a wedge political issue puts Canada’s future at risk.

B.C. hockey coach creates ‘gear library’ to remove cost barrier of sport

Todd Hickling gathered donations and used gear to remove the cost barrier for kids to play hockey.

GoFundMe helps Vancouver Island teen battle a rare cancer

Nanaimo’s Michelle Reilly, 16, battling spinal cord cancer, seeking possible treatment in U.S.

Canada’s ambassador meets with second detainee in China

Global Affairs says John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, met with Spavor Sunday

‘They’re coming:’ Flying cars may appear in urban skies by 2023

Air taxis will number 15,000 and become a global market worth $32 billion by 2035

Most Read