Law suits and Supreme Court hearings abound in Nova Scotia, over everything from Treaty rights, to consultation, to water contamination and various other health and environmental concerns. And it is the people and the government who work for those people who are at odds with each other. The government has created several situations, where private citizens have suffered health and financial setbacks and where the public has no other recourse except to file legal action in order to just have their voices heard and fight for their human rights. It seems bizarre that the people have no say or influence over what impacts them directly in a so called democracy, but, as is proven repeatedly throughout history, they do not.
Marlene Brown vs. RDM Recycling et al – Since 2006, when water tests revealed unsafe contamination levels in residential wells around the RDM site, the community has been fighting for safe clean drinking water. They have been sloughed off by government repeatedly since the days this site was just applying for its permit to bury construction waste. The community opposed the plan and fought hard only to lose out to the company and their supportive government friends. The Municipality dropped the ball first, when the local councillor was vying for a his best friend who owned the company and convinced his fellow corporate lobbyists (councillors) to vote in favour of amending the land use by laws. But then NS Environment held the cards on allowing such an operation in the middle of a residential community. They too ignored the residents’ opposition. The key to this being of any value to anyone, was that HRM would save money on disposal of toxic and heavy metal laden demolition waste. It was not of value to the residents impacted. Since then, the government has failed to take action against the company, or provide a solution to the people. Today, water must be carried home everyday for cooking, cleaning and drinking, and the air around the site is noxious. While orders have been issued to the companies and owners, that have used this site, no enforcement followed. The Municipality could and should extend water service to the area, to give each home water, but the local councillor who is still the same councillor who initiated this disaster, has not and will not admit there is even a problem. Now Ms. Brown has taken action and has filed criminal charges against the companies. If the government isn’t going to fix their misstep, private prosecution appears to be the next phase.
Sipekne’katik First Nation vs. The Province of Nova Scotia – The community took the province to court last year, as NS Environment had issued approvals on a contentious gas cavern project without ever consulting with the community members. If you ask the government, they are adamant they had. The company is also adamant that they have consulted. But the members of Sipekne’katik First Nation have made it clear, they found out about the project when they saw the pipes being laid, 7 years after the application process had begun. They are not affiliated with the council that does consult with government on indigenous and resource issues. And the Province failed and continues to fail to recognize this fact. SFN had to take the situation to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in order to prove that no one had ever dealt with with them on this issue, and they are vehemently opposed to the contamination of the Shubenacadie River, as are many of the residents who live on the river. Another part of the project was also opposed by the residents who live only hundreds of meters away from the site where the Shubenacadie waters will be pumped in and used to carve out caverns underground to store natural gas. Residents who have lived in the area, some for their entire lives have been set aside for a project that serves none of them. No one will have access to the gas, and while the Province and the Corporation responsible tout savings to Nova Scotians, in energy costs, the project has proven to be unreliable in its presentation, and so far in its development. The mixing channel carved out of the banks of the Shubenacadie River, has filled in almost completely, the area floods all winter long, and 2 out of 4 wells drilled to create the caverns have failed or been deemed unsuitable. 18 caverns are planned, while the company only admitted publicly there were four. These failures permeate the ongoing legal and environmental opposition to the project.
The Bay of Fundy Inshore Fisherman’s Association vs The Province of Nova Scotia – The group filed for a judicial review of the Cape Sharp Tidal Turbine Project approval. While they lost their bid to see more baseline data and better monitoring, the fact that these things were not in place prior to the approval should have been dealt with in the years leading up to the project. It took yet another court case to provide insight to the lacking and suspected intentional omission of a preliminary impact assessment base. Since the turbine was installed, a mass fish kill occurred that went on for over a month from November until January. The cause remains unresolved. Fishermen pointed to the lack of baseline study and became gravely concerned about their upcoming season. Then in April and May fishermen on the Bay started seeing mass injuries to fish, of all species. Gashes and slashes that have never been seen previously were suddenly infesting every catch.
Fall River vs The Province of Nova Scotia – This week, Fall River residents received the decision to approve a third application for a proposed quarry next to or in the midst of several incompatible and long existing developments. And the people are already preparing themselves for another long wait for the courts. It is possible an appeal will be filed by the local residents and other groups.
The residents and the Municipality have said no to this application. For 6 years now. The first application was made by Northern Construction Enterprises in June 2011. The public became aware of the proposal in December 2011. Throughout the application process, the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) said this proposal would not be approved, as it did not fit with zoning and Land Use restrictions. The proponent did not even apply for approval with the HRM, as they deemed the municipality to have no right in the decision, until NS Environment refused to process the application pending a municipal approval. Most members of the public were still unaware until January 2012.
Since January 2012, the proposal has been in the courts and in front the Utility and Review Board and in the hands of NS Environment. For much of this process, the people who will be impacted by such a development, those who will live next to it and will exist with impending risk every single day it is in operation, have been sitting more or less in limbo, and on the sidelines. The court cases, did allow intervenor and appellant statuses, as secondary mentions, and the NS Environment department left the residents feeling pretty left out of the process. The province forgot and continue to forget, they work for the people of Nova Scotia. Public interest is a main clause in the decision making process, and public interest is defined as the welfare or well-being of the general public; commonwealth. Living with the threat that seismic activity could knock wells out of commission, cause property damage or create. Tolerating noise and dust issues that threaten the health and well being of families, especially those with vulnerable young, elderly or already ailing members. The threat of damaging the pipeline could have catastrophic results, as would fly rock on Highway 102 or to air traffic at the airport. The risks far out weigh the benefits, as the local populace and travelers stand to gain no tangible benefits at all, but will have to endure the risks and resulting impacts.
The last time the courts were called on in the Fall River case, stemmed around the proponent’s permit being revoked after it had been issued without any public consultation. The proponent filed with the Supreme Court to have it reinstated and carried on in the courts for a year of pre-hearing motions, etc. All the while, the residents and others as intervenors were heavily embroiled in disclosure issues. The Province intentionally omitted hundreds of pages of emails and other documentation from the courts, and members of the public had to file with the courts to force these into the record. Some of these bids for full disclosure were denied by the courts creating gaps in the facts surrounding the revocation. On numerous occasions, these documents would have contradicted the proponents specific grounds for the case. So why was the Province helping keep the records out of the courts? Why was the Province helping the proponent?
We have also become enlightened on the political interference in this situation. The tangle messy web of players and their ties to parties, and the fact that all parties are guilty, leaves Nova Scotians mumbling over their coffee and wondering how to get out, but then too, where to go. The premier, members of his cabinet, a retired senator, and former Federal Ministers’ assistant, who also happened to be a partner in the same firm owned by the Premier’s best friend and campaign manager. During the latest election season, the local PC candidate refused to give his opinion or state his opinion on the quarry. His party, perhaps over confident in an assumed edge over the NS Liberals, made a vague and uncommitted statement about reviewing and transparency, that was a far from the committed and explicit support for the community in the prior election.
We could name many numbers of current and recent court cases where the people have had to take their consultation and impact issues to the courts. But what it comes down to, is the politically and very publicly driven agenda of this province’s government against the taxpayers and citizens. This spirit of collusion that keeps driving these cases into the courts rather than government acting in the public interest in all cases in growing. The courts fail to ensure the public interest is being upheld even within its own walls. Several cases have been denied, stays that would delay projects until the whole case is heard are almost always rejected, and judges in Nova Scotia have continually sided with business over humans to such a broad degree, people are starting to wonder if they have been paid. The government has placed obligations of corporation welfare on the shoulders of Nova Scotia Taxpayers. The cost of corporate misdeeds continues to impact us, and repeated examples of long-term inaction by government, creates an environment of corruption that makes living in this province an unhealthy and increasingly undesirable option.
The costs of the impacts are never disclosed. When the county of Pictou has the highest rates of cancers in Canada, the highest rates of respiratory and cardiovascular disease in Nova Scotia and the highest rates of still births and infant mortality, the political response is that lifestyle choices caused that. While the answer offends me, so does the obvious fact that all those illnesses cost Nova Scotians. The ill and dying, their families, the health care system all feel the financial burden of these issues, but we don’t talk about them. The same situation is true of the cancer rates in Harrietsfield and Williamswood. And how much does is cost us emotionally to be the sickest province in the country? And yet, we still have to fight tooth and nail to try to stop further impacts. The cost of legal battles is unfathomable. Government never discloses their legal costs for each of the battles they are involved in. And it is more taxpayer money that could be used to do some good, instead of defending something bad.
It feels like we are on the edge of a disaster in this province, led by those elected and hired to prevent them. And it will take a disaster to reset the ideals and patience of Nova Scotians, who have become complacent, demoralized or just simply disgusted by the rotating door of self serving and greedy politics, who would rather meet us in court, than try their democratic roles on for size.