Ottawa Ė Fortis Inc of Newfoundland, a successful Canadian corporation, and the Canadian Government will be on trial Wednesday (December 3, 2003) in London when the highest court in the Commonwealth sits to consider stopping construction of the Canadian-backed dam on the Macal River in Belize.
The Court will decide whether the rights of the people of Belize were violated by Fortis and the Belize Government in denying them access to proper public hearings and full disclosure of the contracts they would pay for. In short, a transparent Environmental Impact Assessment as required by Belizean law. And Commonwealth law.
Was that Environmental Impact Assessment process violated? That is the essential question of the case that the judges will consider. Itís simple enough. But the circumstances of the case are extraordinary.
Itís extraordinary that this seedy little case has made it all the way to the Privy Council. Itís the first time in its 500 year history that the Privy Council has heard an environmental case. Itís the first time they have ruled thery have the authority to hear such cases. And the issues involved are those of fundamental human rights. Environmental Law has become a vital component of Human Rights Law.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms the right of all people to clean water, clean air and enough land to live on. Without these other freedoms are meaningless. Environmental Rights are Human Rights.
And the EIA is a major part of Environmental Law. The EIA sets out our rights. The EIA is what stands between us and Love Canals and the Sydney Tar Ponds and the Walkertons and poisoned lakes and oceans and toxic death in general. The EIA is our protection. And is this EIA, paid for by the Canadian Government, a farce?
How was it violated? We expect the Judges will look at the denial of proper Public Hearings as a major breach of the EIA process, which denies the people of Belize fundamental rights under the Law.
The Wildlife aspect will probably not be considered by the judges, although the Wildlife component of the EIA, which was conducted by the Museum of Natural History in London, recommended the dam not be built because the damage to wildlife and the ecosystem would be too great and not possible to mitigate. Fortis put this report in the Appendix of the EIA, and contradicted it. The CEO of Fortis, Stan Marshall, said the wildlife reports were wrong and the endangered animals could just move up the hill when their Valley is flooded.
The judges will probably look at the recent amazing revelations about the flawed geology studies of the Dam site. Just last week, only days before the Privy Council Hearings, the Government of Belize finally released the findings of a Government Report on the Dam area.
Chief geologist, Jean Cornec, says in that report of May 2002 - From the Final Report - Remapping proposed Challilo Dam area. Geology and Petrol Department, Minister Natural Resources. And Environmental Trade and Industry. ďThe major fault zone observed in the Macal River bed appears on the original map of the IGS (overseas memoir #3 Bateson and Hall 1977). However the fault is absent on the Geological Map produced by AMEC (for Fortis Ėauthorís note) in their partial reproductions of the 77 IGS map. The rationale for the removal of the fault line is unknown as this fault outcrops spectacularly in the Macal River bed and left bank.Ē
In their geology data in their EIA, Fortis has actually erased a fault line in a map of the site, despite the high number of dam collapses world wide, and risk to life. There are very good reasons why the Government of Belize passed a law shielding Fortis from all lawsuits. Why would Fortis need to be above the law if not to break it?
Itís a text book case of Free Trade, Globalization and Privatization, at work in the world. Free Trade means the freedom of money, not people. Fortis, a powerful transnational corporation was free to buy into Belize and set up a private monopoly over electricity distribution, with the people of Belize a captive market, paying the highest price for electricity in the Western world. Now Fortis wants to set up a monopoly over electricity generation by putting up the costly and controversial Challilo dam on the Macal River.
Fortis, a billion-dollar corporation Ė they just purchased Aquilla in BC and Alberta for $1.2 billion Ė went to the Canadian government for help to put up the dam in the Rainforest. In steps CIDA, then under the command of faithful Fortis friend, Brian Tobin. CIDA gave Fortis the money to take care of the EIA. $500,000 Canadian tax dollars to ensure the rights of the people of Belize were respected. Or to make sure the dam went through, falsify geological data, hide illegal contracts, prevent public hearings and make sure people in Belize would never have a say in the dam?
We gave Fortis a $500,000 advantage. Team Canada pumped up on subsidy steroids from CIDA scores another hit in the Third World. And the people of Belize lose, thanks to the Government of Canada, Fortis, and the Government of Belize. So now the people, environmental groups and business people are seeking redress and justice from the Court in London.
We paid for this fraudulent document to cheat the people of Belize. CIDA specifically paid for the EIA, in a secret deal only discovered under the Freedom of Information Act. So they arenít proud of what theyíve done here. But we paid for this mess.
The suit is directed against the Government of Belize. That they approved this EIA and this dam project, is their shame. But that we financed it, and produced it, is Canadaís shame. So really on Wednesday when the people of Belize seek redress against their Government in trying to protect their environment and livelihoods, we in Canada should pray that they are successful, and that the Court puts an end to the scurrilous and embarrassing behaviour of Fortis and the Canadian International Development Agency in Belize.
This report was written by Greg Malone
Save the Macal River Coalition
December 2, 2003, Ottawa
For more information:
Sierra Club of Canada
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