Grenville-sur-la-Rouge has had its first of what will be many days in court over the $96-million lawsuit Canada Carbon has launched against the municipality for trying to block its efforts to establish a graphite mine and marble quarry there. The municipality has contended that the project would be in contravention of its zoning bylaws; Canada Carbon maintains that the municipality has intentionally misled citizens and thwarted the company’s efforts to disseminate information about the project.

On November 9 in St-Jérôme, lawyers for the municipality asked the Québec Superior Court to reject and declare the pursuit of Canada Carbon’s $96 million as “abusive.” Canada Carbon claims it would lose $96-million in future earnings by not being able to develop the proposed mine and quarry.

The municipality is being represented by Marc Simard of the Montréal law firm Bélanger Sauvé.

Court documents explain why Grenville-sur-la-Rouge believes the Vancouver-based mining company’s lawsuit is abusive. The reasons include that the suit serves to intimidate the members of the elected municipal council and citizens as well as and limiting their freedom of expression.

The municipality wants the court to use Article 51 of the Québec Code of Civil Procedure which includes provisions that can stop coercive or controlling acts by one party against another.

In a news release issued by the municipality, Mayor Tom Arnold said, “We are calling on both the court and the Québec government to stop this kind of lawsuit against elected officials and citizens who only defend the public interest and their environment.” The municipality prefers development of tourism, recreation, and agricultural activities, but it is not opposed to resource extraction, if it does not happen in sensitive areas.

The court documents request that the lawsuit be dismissed and that all Grenville-sur-la-Rouge’s legal fees be paid for by the plaintiff—Canada Carbon. The documents also note that the municipality currently has more than $24.8 million allocated for costs regarding the legal action being taken against it. A fundraising campaign called Solidarité GSLR Solidarity has been set up to raise money for the municipality’s legal fight.

A broad coalition of organizations from across Québec society supports the small municipality of 2,800 people and is concerned about the precedent the lawsuit could set in Québec. According to Christian Simard, the General Manager of Nature Québec, there are approximately 40 organizations backing Grenville-sur-la-Rouge’s defence against Canada Carbon. Citizens and supporters of the organizations demonstrated against the lawsuit and Canada Carbon outside the St-Jérôme courthouse on Thursday (November 8) when the hearing was taking place.

SOS-Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, the citizen committee behind efforts to stop the mine and quarry, said the outcome of the municipality’s request to have the lawsuit dismissed could be precedent-setting.

“What is happening this morning concerns primarily the whole of Québec’s municipal world, because what is at stake in Grenville-sur-la-Rouge is the right of citizens everywhere in Quebec to decide freely what kind of development they want for their region, without facing the intimidation of mining, gas and oil companies,” said spokesman Norman Ethier.

Ugo Lapointe, the co-founder of the anti-mine organization Coalition pour que le Québec ait meilleure mine! said, “The fight in Grenville-sur-la-Rouge is the fight of all Quebec municipalities.” A similar lawsuit already occurred in Ristigouche near Gaspésie and Lapointe warned that three other municipalities could be vulnerable for similar civil actions.

Environmental law experts note that lawsuits like the one launched by Canada Carbon against Grenville-sur-la-Rouge can, depending on their outcome, diminish the ability of governments to enact policies on environmental protection.

“In a society governed by the law and in the face of current environmental issues, it is important to preserve the capacity of all levels of government, including municipalities, to act in favor of the protection of the environment without risking exposure to the environment,” said Geneviève Paul, Director-General of the Centre québécois du droit de l’environnement.