Intervenor: Vol 23. No 3 July - September 1998

Update on Selling Lake Superior Water

As you may have read in the last Intervenor, CELA helped to blow the whistle on the NOVA Group, who had very quietly pursued and acquired a permit to take 600 million litres annually from Lake Superior by tanker, for sale in Asia. Public interest groups, local residents and some US government agencies were soon expressing outrage over the plan.

Under pressure, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment cancelled the water-taking permit in July 1998. The Nova Group is appealing that cancellation. Robert MacRae, a Sault Ste. Marie lawyer representing Nova, is reported in the Southam press on October 24, 1998 as saying that Nova is determined to go ahead with the plan to take water because it doesn't want to miss out on a potential bonanza. "If we back down, bigger interests will want to take over. … They're [opponents] are overly concerned about what is essentially a drop of water over Niagara Falls."

Legally, Nova launched the appeal on a number of grounds, including whether the Minister has the jurisdiction to cancel the permit. However, according to the Southam report, "environmentalists say rapid action must be taken in order to prevent opening the floodgates that could see a wholesale sell-off of Canada's water as a commercial commodity subject to unrestricted trade under international law ... Federal Environment Minister, Christine Stewart has said she would like to introduce new legislation this fall to outlaw the bulk export of fresh water from Canada, but all of the provinces must first reach consensus on any proposed law. The export of bottled water is permitted now."(Sun Times, 24 October 1998)

Now the US House of Representatives has weighed in by unanimously passing a resolution urging governments on both sides of the border to ban the sale or diversion of Great Lakes water to foreign countries, commercial enterprises, or individuals unless the US and Canada and all the states and provinces bordering the Great Lakes participate in negotiations and approve the sale.

At a preliminary hearing of the Environmental Appeal Board on October 16, 1998, CELA and Great Lakes United (a Buffalo based bi-national coalition of 175 groups from across the Great Lakes basin) were granted party status. That means we can call expert witnesses at the full hearing; we can cross-examine witnesses and we can appeal the decision of the Board. Other groups were granted participant status ––they can make presentations to the Board. Some of these groups include Batchewana First Nation, the Great Lakes Commission, Lake Superior Citizen Interest Group and the Council of Canadians.

The hearing of the Environmental Appeal Board is scheduled to commence December 7, 1998.

CELA Staff