First Nation fighting Canada-China FIPA in court case "urgently" need funds, a spokesperson says

The Hupacasath First Nation of Port Alberni will appeal a Federal Court ruling in their recent case against the Canada's China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement spokesperson Brenda Sayers says, adding that the Hupacasath urgently need funds to help finance the costs of the appeal.

The FIPA deal is a 31 year lock-in with Chinese investors, and provides protections for both Canadian companies operating in China and to state-owned enterprises from China who buy up properties or invest in Canada. It was quietly signed last November without parliamentary debate or public discussion. The Hupacasath claim that the government failed consult them on FIPA, and crafted a case showing how such an investment treaty would matters affect their traditional rights and title.

FIPAs are part of the expanding global network of bilateral investment treaties (BITs).

The agreement with China offers extraordinary investor protection, allowing foreign corporations to sue should legislation be passed that inhibits their profit-making ability. Once ratified, it is possible to surmise that if  Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline is rejected  British Columbians could find Petro China or any number of Chinese companies suing taxpayers for damages. "In Hupacasath's case, we have not settled our treaty, so we have to look 31 years into the future: we have to look at what resources will be left in our territory so future generations can sustain their way of life," Brenda Sayers, a spokesperson for the Hupacasath First Nation says.

In a classic David versus Goliath fight, the tiny Port Alberni nation of 300 took Canada to court in June, with the help of $150,000 in donations raised through  LeadNow.ca, a Canadian advocacy organization. After deliberating for months, the Department of Justice ruling came down in favour of the Crown last week. The Hupacasath were ordered to pay $110,000 in legal fees  to the Crown.

Drew Mildon, First Nations legal expert at Woodward & Co., explains that legal precedents are more likely to be set in the upper courts.  "Higher level courts tend to be more politically courageous because they operate at a distance," says Mildon.

The Hupacasath case against FIP rests on their claim, under Section 35 of the constitution, that Canada has the duty to consult them over the CC-FIPA. The appeal will allow the claim to be reconsidered in the Supreme Court, where, according to Mildon, trial decisions have tended to favour First Nations. Should the Hupacasath win this next round, what that could bring about is a halt to the immediate threat of FIPA's ratification and a reconsideration of what this treaty bodes for BC's collective future.   

Says UBCIC's Phillips, "These court cases will serve as a cumulative effect of pushing back the Harper Government's legislative agenda. Collectively, these cases serve notice not only on the Harper Government but certainly on industry, business interests, that they are simply not going to steamroll indigenous land rights and environmental considerations without us pushing back and taking these matters before the courts and politically challenging this agenda."

Federal Green Party leader, Elizabeth May, is urging people to donate to help fund the Hupacasath's appeal: "We're all in the Hupacasath's debt, and we all should contribute to help fund the court case."

With just two days to raise the funds needed to proceed, the Hupcasath are calling on citizens to stand together, Sayers says. Bolstered by citizen support on a recent anti-FIPA road trip, Sayers feels confident that they can raise the full $300,000 in time:  "We have to let this government know that we as a country are ready to fight for our rights. We can then tell future generations that we gave it our best."

To donate to the Hupacasath's battle against FIPA, click here.

Graphic by Craig Fleisch (craigfleisch.ca) for The Vancouver Observer

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