Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Canada vs the human right to water and projected trade agreement with the European Union


An article by Maude Barlow and Anil Naidoo from the Council of Canadians in the Toronto Star outlines Canada's role as the leading opponent to the materialisation of the right to water as the UN general Assembly has been presented with a motion on this issue.

Canada's official position is that recognition of the right to water would force Canada to share its water with the USA. This is a weak argument from a legal point of view. As the article points out, a state's obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights are to its own citizens. The article identifies a more pressing menace to Canadian waters:

«Far more dangerous to this country’s water are the provisions of NAFTA, which give American companies rights to Canada’s water, and the proposed Canada-E.U. Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which will give water corporations the right to challenge local public control of water services.»

The impact of NAFTA on water apportionment and conservation in Canada has been studied in detail by legal doctrine. However, the impact of the projected CETA on water resources management needs to be studied.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has some information to start with. A legal opinion by Steven Shybman from Sack, Glodblatt, Mitchell LLP is made available by the Columbia Institute Centre for Civic Governance and focuses on the impact of CETA on municipal procurements and in particular on the procurements related of drinking water services (see p.18 & ff).

I do not have have the time to look at primary sources and the general legal context of CETA at the moment, but Shybman's opinion suggests that the agreement would be detrimental to municipal control over drinking water services in Canada.

It appears that the draft text of CETA was leaked by the Trade Justice Network last April. One question is why governmental secrecy in the first place? Another one is why do Canadian negotiators appear to agree to initially unfavourable terms for Canadian interests? This seems to be a general tend in international economic trade to the extent that incompetence has been envisaged as an explanation (see Shybman's opinion p.22).

I do not believe this is the case. However, as demonstrated regularly over recent years in daily news, a critical perspective on our political leaders' commitment to general public interest and welfare is healthy.

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