Ottawa — Ristigouche, a small Quebec town of 168 people, made headlines when Gastem, an oil company, sued it for $1.5 million for prohibiting fracking in the area in order to protect its water source. The entire operating budget of Ristigouche is $275,000.
Today, the Council of Canadians made a donation to Solidarité Ristigouche, the crowdfunding campaign raising money to fight the lawsuit.
“We see many David versus Goliath battles, but this is by far one of the worst cases I’ve seen,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “It is absolutely shameful that Gastem is suing this tiny village that is just trying to protect its residents and their drinking water.”
In March 2013, Ristigouche passed a bylaw prohibiting putting into the ground any substance that may contaminate drinking water for human or animal consumption within two kilometres of any artesian or surface well supplying 20 people or more. The province was about to enact similar legislation, but not before Gastem’s application. So in the absence of provincial legislation, many municipalities enacted their own bylaws.
With 92 of the 168 residents asking for the bylaw, the enormous support for the bylaw is not often seen in municipalities.
“This was very popular: an overwhelming majority of residents asked for it. In adopting this bylaw, the municipal council did its duty to protect the common good of the community,” affirmed Ristigouche Mayor François Boulay. “The lawsuit is an attack on the democratic right of our entire community to inhabit and live on the land.”
This is not the first time a company has sued a government over fracking. Lone Pine Resources, an energy company, sued the Canadian government for Quebec’s moratorium on fracking despite fervent community support for a moratorium.
“We are seeing a shocking trend: corporate rights are trumping community rights,” says Emma Lui, the Council of Canadians’ Water Campaigner. “We need governments and our legal systems to protect people, not corporations.”