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Council of Canadians supports First Nations legal challenge to Canada-China investment treaty (FIPA)

Ottawa – The Council of Canadians supports the Hupacasath First Nation’s legal challenge to the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA), a notice of which was filed in B.C. court on January 18.

The Council hopes the dispute will force the Harper government to take seriously its obligation to consult with First Nations before signing international agreements that will affect Treaty and Indigenous rights, and that it will open an important debate in Canada on the negative impact that FIPAs, and investment chapters in NAFTA and the proposed Canada-EU trade deal, have on democracy, human rights, and public policy at home and abroad.

“The federal government has a constitutional responsibility to consult with First Nations as well as the provinces before entering into treaties like the FIPA with China,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “It will sound incredible to most Canadians that the FIPA grants Chinese investors a minimum 31 years of protection against government measures that could interfere with their ‘right’ to make a profit. It is incredible but true. Already under NAFTA companies have challenged environmental policies they find too stringent, or a community’s change of heart on a proposed resource project.”

Tens of thousands of Canadians have asked the Harper government to cancel the FIPA with China, which was signed in September but has yet to be ratified. Part of their concern is that the investment protections in the FIPA will give Chinese resource firms powerful tools to make sure controversial pipeline or resource projects move ahead, and if they don’t, that the Canadian public will have to pay those firms for any environmental or conservation measures that get in the way. Late last year, Canada was hit with three new investor-state lawsuits under NAFTA where foreign firms insisted their investments had been indirectly expropriated by public policy. That includes one from a U.S. energy firm claiming $250 million in damages from Quebec’s decision to ban hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) for natural gas in Quebec’s St. Lawrence Valley.

“Even public health labelling on cigarettes is being challenged by a major tobacco company in Australia using rules exactly like those in the FIPA,” says Barlow. “That’s why the Australian government refuses to negotiate any more FIPA-like investment treaties, and why the Indian government is reluctant to sign a FIPA with Canada. The rights of First Nations in Canada, and our basic ideas about how democracy works, are challenged by these treaties, which only know how to protect the corporate right to profit.”

The Council of Canadians has contributed $2,500 to the Hupacasath injunction against the Canada-China FIPA and is encouraging its members to support the legal case.