In its Saturday, November 10 edition, La Presse+ published a letter from Marie-Ève Maillé about the case brought by Canada Carbon Inc., a mining company (“Canada Carbon” or the “Company”), against the municipality of Grenville-sur-la-Rouge (GSLR). In her letter, the author stressed the ‘abusive’ nature of the lawsuit and the absence of social acceptability for the Company’s project.
THIS IS NOT A STRATEGIC LAWSUIT AGAINST PUBLIC PARTICIPATION!
Let’s set the record straight. In a judgment delivered orally, Judge Danielle Turcotte of the Superior Court of Québec concluded that Canada Carbon’s claim for damage is not abusive and does not present any of the characteristics attributable to a strategic lawsuit against public participation. She also concluded that the intended aim in bringing this lawsuit was not to silence elected officials, but to protect their rights until the debate on the appeal for judicial review was complete.
This way of doing things — bringing a damages claim and then requesting that it be suspended — allows Canada Carbon to preserve its rights and avenues of recourse while preventing the municipality from incurring significant costs in defending itself.
Unfortunately, there is a risk that several people will only remember Madame Maillé’s allegations that the lawsuit is a poursuite-bâillon (a strategic lawsuit against public participation). In a text of fewer than 740 words, the author repeats the terms poursuite-bâillon, poursuite abusive (malicious prosecution), and voie intimidante (intimidating procedure) eight times, banking on the principle that, if repeated, even a false message ends up being perceived as true.
Speaking of truth, it would have been desirable that Madame Maillé disclose to readers that she serves as a consultant to GSLR.
THE PROCESS OF ESTABLISHING SOCIAL ACCEPTABILTY MUST BE GIVEN A CHANCE
Madame Maillé also denounces the absence of social acceptability. Here again, she makes claims aimed at influencing readers’ perceptions and opinions. According to her, Canada Carbon would try to obtain social acceptability by ‘force’, ‘domination’, or ‘malicious prosecution’. After reading what she wrote, some people would immediately be tempted to condemn Canada Carbon. But if readers care about the other side of the story, they will be interested to learn that, since 2016, Canada Carbon has engaged in dialogue with the previous elected council and with the population.
This dialogue with the former council of elected officials of GSLR has borne some fruit; in December 2016 and March 2017 the council adopted two resolutions recommending that “the Commission de la protection du territoire agricole du Québec (“CPTAQ”) treat the request submitted by Canada Carbon Inc. favorably, and authorize non-agricultural use of land for the operation of a graphite mine, a marble quarry, and the primary treatment of minerals.”
Moreover, in 2016 and 2017, Canada Carbon took a variety of initiatives not only to explain its project to the population, but it also took note of concerns raised by citizens and completed additional studies to address those concerns and find proposed solutions.
In December 2017, after the election of the new GSLR council, Canada Carbon reached out to the newly elected Mayor to request a meeting. No response was ever received, but instead of having dialogue, the new council took various illegal measures to block Canada Carbon’s project even though the designated municipal official at least twice — in December 2016 and in March 2017 — judged it to be in conformity with the zoning regulations.
Emails from Canada Carbon to the Mayor have also been unacknowledged. It was the elected councilors, not Canada Carbon, who broke off dialogue. Worse still, since being elected, the GSLR councilors have misled the people about the size and noise of the mine, and about its potential impacts on the land and on the quantity and quality of water.
It comes as no surprise that, in reaction to the falsehoods and exaggerations of current elected officials, some GSLR residents are opposed to our mining project. Should citizens base their judgment of a project on a single version of the facts? Shouldn’t social acceptability result from a process in which, before arriving at a decision, all aspects are examined and all technical expertise made available and analyzed? Canada Carbon has commissioned technical studies so as to provide facts on the impacts of its project raised by the councilors and citizens. Information and report findings that have been provided to councilors have been ignored or intentionally misinterpreted thus knowingly sabotaging the process of assessing social acceptability. Using fears they themselves have generated as an excuse, they now conclude, according to Madame Maillé, that the ‘the social acceptability of this project is irredeemably compromised.”
THE EXAMPLE OF GASTEM AND ARTICLE 246 OF THE Loi sur l’aménagement et l’urbanisme (LAU)
Madame Maillé compares the situation in Grenville-sur-la-Rouge with that in which the oil company Gastem brought suit against the municipality of Restigouche-Sud-Est. The Mayor of GSLR, Thomas Arnold, has recently declared on various platforms that the Canada Carbon damages claim would be rejected as was Gastem’s in the Restigouche case. There are many significant differences between the two cases however one key difference that cannot be ignored is that Gastem’s project, a natural gas well, did not benefit from the protection provided to mining projects by the first paragraph of article 246 of the Loi sur l’aménagement et l’urbanisme (“LAU”). Canada Carbon’s graphite mine project is protected by article 246 of this Act, the terms of which mean that, since graphite is a mineral substance as defined in the Loi sur les mines, GSLR’s municipal regulations cannot oppose the graphite mine project.
Clearly, Canada Carbon’s graphite mine project is subject to provincial jurisdiction. GSLR does not have the right to block it.
LET’S RESUME THE DIALOGUE
Social acceptability does not mean unanimity. It is not ensured by a simple majority, nor measured by the noise opponents make in the media. It implies dialogue, but it takes two parties to engage in dialogue. Unfortunately, this dialogue was abruptly interrupted when the new GSLR council was voted into power, and its councilors adopted an ‘empty-chair’ policy, refusing all meaningful dialogue with Canada Carbon.
Let us find a solution to this now. Let us discuss the Miller project and the measures that could allow us to carry out a project that is both important for the economy and respectful of the environment and all citizens.
CANADA CARBON INC.
R. Bruce Duncan
T: 604 685-6375
F: 604 909-1163