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NEWS: Paris court ruling on FLOW ‘a victory’

The Vancouver Sun reports today that:

Canadian activist Maude Barlow is calling it a victory for those who believe clean water is a human right, but a French court’s recent decision to reject a defamation lawsuit against the movie Flow could also be regarded as a sign of changing times.

“It’s the latest in a string of recent wins,” Barlow said from Ottawa. “People aren’t just being educated about what’s happening to water. Many places in the world are starting to feel the effects of water shortages. It’s an issue that affects every person on the planet and it’s becoming more urgent than ever.”
Barlow has been banging the water gong for years as a result of her work for the Council of Canadians, a nonprofit advocating social justice here at home, and around the world.

For a long time, she says people weren’t aware of what was happening to water rights and resources: They were quietly being sold off and licensed to huge corporations such as Suez and Vivendi (now renamed Veolia Environment).

Public ignorance was bliss for the water giants, but Barlow says movies such as Flow started to change the playing field by raising public awareness and that’s when Suez realized it had to take legal action.

On the eve of Flow’s theatrical release in Paris, Suez’s home city, the corporation filed a writ of summons before the “tribunal de grande instance” (or higher court) of Paris citing defamation.

Although Barlow was not named as a defendant in the suit and did not face direct legal action, she is part of the complaint filed in February 2009 by Suez’s legal team against the film’s French distributor ARTE, as well as its sales agents at Celluloid Dreams.

Citing a “libellous passage” in the film shot outside a sewage plant in El Alto, Bolivia, featuring Barlow and water activist Marcela Olivera, the writ attempts to establish the women as transmitters of “inaccurate facts” surrounding Suez’s stewardship of the Bolivian resource.

Barlow says Suez had no choice but to sue: “For them, it’s about corporate survival.” She says now the United Nations has recognized clean water and sanitation as basic human rights, the corporations that seek to profit from water management are becoming increasingly defensive.

“For Suez, Paris was their own backyard,” says Barlow.

Unlike other major cities in Europe, Paris has always contracted water management to private firms. For the past 150 years, no one balked, but now that other cities — including Atlanta, Ga., — have gone back to a municipal model after failed experience with the private sector, the battle to keep Paris’s water in private hands was even more important.

The legal challenge did stop Flow from being shown in Paris theatres for the better part of two years, but now that the court dismissed the suit and affirmed Barlow’s observations as fair comment, French distributor ARTE is ramping up a revised release plan to capitalize on the litigious ink.

“Right from the beginning, this was a movie that asked, ‘Who owns the water?'” says Barlow. “This victory is really the legitimization of the position against these water giants, but it’s not over. Anyone who thinks we’re not going to face water shortages in this country should look at what’s happening right now in Alberta — where they’re about to face the ‘perfect drought’ — not just as a result of the tarsands, but the receding glaciers because the Bow River is entirely glacier-fed, and the irrigation for food crops.”

Barlow says the battle to keep the Canadian water supply safe and plentiful will continue for decades to come, and citizens must be vigilant. “The Canadian government still has water rights and privatization on the table. They haven’t said yes to a new water treaty with Europe, but they haven’t said no yet, either.”

The article is at http://www.vancouversun.com/life/Clean+water+human+right/3870351/story.html.