OTTAWA The union representing Canadian municipal workers wants its say in a far-reaching legal case that could affect the power of Canadian municipalities to protect the public interest.
The case arises from a NAFTA decision that gives a US corporation US$17 million in damages after a Mexican municipality denied the company a building permit to operate a toxic waste dump. Mexico has now appealed that case in a Canadian court.
If it can happen in Mexico, it could happen here, said Judy Darcy, National President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. This case is a frightening example of the way NAFTA puts corporate profits ahead of public health, and the rights of foreign corporations ahead of the democratic rights of citizens.
CUPE has filed an application with the BC Supreme Court to intervene in the precedent-setting case that could have huge implications for Canadas environment, public services and sovereignty. A hearing on the application will be held January 31.
The legal case pits Mexico against Metalclad Corporation in the first court challenge of a NAFTA tribunal decision. Operating in secret, the NAFTA panel ruled that the decision to deny the permit and to declare the toxic waste site part of an ecological reserve constituted an expropriation.
Under NAFTA Chapter 11, virtually any action by a government that limits the current or future value of assets held by a foreign corporation is subject to a claim for compensation.
NAFTA protects investors, but what about the rights of citizens? What about respect for local democracy and domestic laws? Elected municipal officials must have the right to make decisions in the public interest, said Darcy.
If this ruling is upheld, no town or city will be safe. Any municipality could find itself facing a damage claim from a foreign corporation that feels its profits have been harmed. I predict well see a big chill when it comes to municipalities taking on these powerful forces. Zoning, licences, permits any decision that affected the future profits of a foreign company could be subject to legal action, said Darcy. What would have happened in the Adams Mine case if a US corporation could have sued the City of Toronto for scrapping the project?
CUPE is also concerned that NAFTAs Chapter 11 could lead to increased privatization of public services like health care and water.
Background information on the Metalclad case and CUPEs intervention is available on CUPEs web site at www.cupe.ca.