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UPDATE: The Council and a community’s ‘right to refuse’

For years the Council of Canadians has worked with chapters and local groups to successfully mobilize community pressure to protect the public interest, whether that’s been to stop garbage dumps (as was the case with Site 41 in Simcoe County), quarries, or even international trade deals.

More than ten years ago, our chairperson Maude Barlow wrote a critique of major dam projects around the world that one of the pre-conditions that must be in place for the construction of any dam is “accountability to local people who have the right of veto”.

Over the past several years, we have been encouraging municipalities to pass resolutions that ask to be exempted from the Canada-European Union Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). For example, the City of Victoria in May 2011 asked the province and federal government “for a clear, permanent exemption” and “to protect the autonomous powers” of the city. Trade campaigner Stuart Trew has noted, “More than 40 cities have passed resolutions calling for an exemption from CETA to protect their democratic rights to set social policy and spending priorities without fear of corporate challenges.”

Even before the Harper government reluctantly recognized in principle the right to water and sanitation, we asked cities to recognize the right to water and sanitation through Blue Community Project resolutions – and they did. It was only with the mayor of Peterborough that we encountered the argument that it was outside of their jurisdiction to do (this despite the assertion by the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to water and sanitation that cities have their own human rights obligations in this respect, including providing public washrooms and drinking fountains for those who are homeless).

And next month, we hope to see Inverness County in Nova Scotia pass a bylaw banning fracking within its county boundaries, which are almost 4,000 square kilometres in size and include Lake Ainslie. This is significant because the province has already given permission to a company to frack near the lake. While the jurisdiction over natural resources officially rests with the province, the County is moving toward exercising its ‘right of veto’ to protect its right to water and the rights of Lake Ainslie.

The Council of Canadians supports a community’s right to veto, their democratic rights and autonomous powers, and fully encourages communities to assert these rights and the rights of nature.