A text by Joane Bérubé with the collaboration of Sylvie Aubut and Ariane Perron-Langlois
The oil and gas exploration company claimed that the municipal by-law protecting drinking water had forced it to stop its exploration activities in the area.
In her decision, Justice Nicole Tremblay states that the by-law “is the result of serious work” and that “Restigouche must ensure the protection of watercourses in accordance with government rules”.
The judge ordered Gastem to pay Restigouche-Partie-Sud-Est $ 154,000 within 30 days of the decision.
The company will also have to pay $ 10,000 for part of the costs incurred by the Municipality to defend itself. The trial took place in September in New Carlisle, Gaspésie.
A relieved municipality
Restigouche-Part-Southeast welcomes with relief the decision of the court. For four years, the small municipality of 157 inhabitants tried to raise funds to finance his defense against Gastem. The Restigouche Solidarity campaign raised more than $ 340,000.
“Today, we raise our glass of drinking water to the health of Quebec’s water and to all those who supported us! “Said the mayor of Restigouche-Part-South-East, François Boulay.
According to Mayor Boulay, the bill for the expenses incurred by the Municipality amounts to $ 370,000.
The money that Gastem has to pay will be welcome. Should Gastem waive its recourse rights, the surpluses will be transferred to another case for drinking water in Quebec, says Mayor Boulay.
The Municipality, however, prefers to wait to hear Gastem’s decision on his right of appeal before disposing of it.
François Boulay, Mayor of Ristigouche-Partie-Sud-Est Photo: Radio-Canada
The case was very important for other municipalities, since it involved their power to legislate to protect drinking water. The judgment also contains several references to the duty of municipalities to protect the environment and the duty to subscribe to the precautionary principle.
Raymond Savoie, president of Gastem, says he is disappointed with the judgment. “We read the document, we try to understand; for the moment we are there, “says Savoie, who refuses for the moment to comment on the decision.
Mr. Savoie does not rule out the possibility that the company can appeal the decision, but prefers to wait for a more detailed analysis of the judgment.
In the region, Sylvain Roy, MNA for Bonaventure, is pleased with the verdict.
Impacts on other municipalities?
The deputy Roy believes that this is a “great victory for democracy and territorial sovereignty”. Mr. Roy hopes the decision will serve as case law for similar cases.
The lawyer of the Municipality, Jean-François Girard, is not surprised at the amounts that will pay Gastem in Restigouche-Part-Southeast. “We had,” he said, “very carefully pleaded the abusive nature of the appeal and the fact that it was up to Gastem to reimburse us for these costs. ”
The fact that the court recognizes this element of law is also very important, according to Mr. Girard. “It will force companies who want to sue municipalities to think twice if it is not legally sound,” he says.
For the lawyer, the victory is indeed that of a small municipality struggling with a pursuit that had no other purpose than to be punitive. “You have to think about it, there are 84 taxpayers in Restigouche! Says Girard.
The latter also sees the victory of the municipal world. “This judgment,” he adds, “recognizes the role of municipalities and the fact that municipalities can take up the cause according to the interest of their citizens, interest in the health and well-being of their population. . ”
Mayor Boulay also believes that the judgment brings very important elements on the municipal competences in environmental matters.
The president of the Quebec Federation of Municipalities (FQM), Jacques Demers, also welcomes the fact that the judgment reaffirms the municipal powers and their duty to intervene in the protection of the environment. “However, we must not forget that these powers must be exercised in compliance with the legislative framework in force,” says Demers.