Canada used as US-NAFTA toxic waste dump
o Statement by seven "Bennett Trial" environmentalists

mass protest

Some 1,000 people demonstrate in Belledune against the construction of a toxic waste incinerator - 16 May 2004

DESPITE FIERCE POPULAR OPPOSITION, a toxic waste incinerator has been built by the Bennett Environmental corporation in an industrial park in Belledune, a small port of 2,000 people on the Baie-des-Chaleur River in northeastern New Brunswick.

aerien Portof BelleduneThe $15-17 million High Temperature Thermal oxidizer (HTTO) facility is to treat approximately 100,000 tonnes per year (at a maximum of 16 tonnes per hour) of hydrocarbon and creosote impacted soils and solid materials. Ninety per cent of the toxic waste is to be shipped thousands of miles from the US (and even from Mexico City), involving an estimated 9,900 truck loads a year as well as ships transiting the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Northumberland Strait and then berthing at the Port of Belledune.

The plant is permitted to burn, by incineration, contaminated soils, various types of materials and substances containing contaminates including hydrocarbons, creosote, tar, oil, medical waste and military waste. These materials will be imported from US creosote contaminated sites in New Jersey as well as various stockpiled materials from the US Armed Forces (chemical weapons), Canada and Mexico.

The incinerator was built in Canada because the US refused to allow it to be set up there, judging the process to be highly polluting.

An earlier attempt by Bennett to build a site in the Temiskaming region of northern Ontario to process 200,000 tonnes of contaminated materials a year was blocked by the Kirkland Lake and provincial governments due to many concerns about the efficiency of the technology, impact on human health, and impact on the environment including ground and surface water.

Since 1996 the company also has been operating a plant in St. Ambroise in the Saguenay region of Quebec, which almost exclusively treats US waste.

After only 300 days in operation, the land around the St. Ambroise site showed signs of contaminations from dioxins, furans, mercury and other contaminants, and was the subject of broad protest by residents and farmers, leading to a provincial inquiry. (Dioxin, a highly toxic substance, appears as a byproduct during the burning of PCBs. The Canadian border is open to dioxin, a chemical much more toxic than PCBs.)

Established in 1992, the company's origin dates back to contracts from Exxon following the catastrophic Exxon Valdez oil spill in March 1989, with financing from the federal government. Bennett Environmental Inc. has recently formed two strategic alliances with Onyx Environmental Services (OES) and IT Corporation (IT). OES is the waste management subsidiary of the French multi-national company Vivendi. A former chief engineer for Monsanto, UK, James Bennett got his start with the company that pioneered the development of toxins like PCBs and the dioxin-laden Agent Orange

The decision by the New Brunswick government and its Department of Environment and Local Government, under the Clean Environment Act of New Brunswick, to provide Bennett with a construction permit was based on the findings of a preliminary study done by none other than a contractor hired by Bennett, as well as a study done for the St-Ambroise incinerator. No environmental assessment was carried out. Moreover, the New Brunswick government seems to be deliberately ignoring the fact that the St-Ambroise incinerator is facing legal proceedings for non-compliance with Quebec environmental norms.

In the face of such a direct threat to their health and the environment, the population of New Brunswick and Belledune began organizing.

The Return to Sender Coalition demanded the holding of public hearings and organized numerous public events such as demonstrations and a petition signed by more than 60,000 people thus far. Besides this, a number of other legal proceedings were launched, such as by the Mi'kmaq of Gesgapegiag and the Maritime Fishermen's Union, to revoke the construction permit and demand the holding of a independent inquiry.

In March 2004, seven Quebec environmentalists with the group Earthfirst! peacefully occupied Paul Martin's riding office for 18 hours to oppose the construction of the incinerator. Their aim was to demand a moratorium on the incinerator's construction and the holding of an independent inquiry on its trans-border impacts.

The federal government played deaf to the Return to Sender Coalition's demands and the seven environmentalists were arrested.

However, the environmentalists had good reason to set off the alarm before it was too late.

When former Environment Minister David Anderson announced on 21 May 2004 that he was giving notification on referral of the case to a federal review commission to determine the importance of the project's trans-border effects on the environment, it was too late.

On 13 August, Bennett contested the federal government's decision to order a new environmental impact study for the plant and presented a motion against the minister, stipulating that the construction of the plant was almost complete. On 23 August 2004, a federal court decided that the Canadian Environmental Review Agency would not be setting up a review commission. The reason given? The incinerator was already built, it was no longer a "project."

If the Environment Minister had deigned to listen to the seven environmentalists in March 2004 rather than waiting until May to order the setting up of a review commission, we wouldn't be in this predicament.

Therefore, in conjunction with the Return to Sender Coalition, the seven people who were arrested pled "defence by necessity" during their trial held at the beginning of March. To do this, the accused, who face charges of mischief and obstruction to the police from carrying out their work, must prove that the sit-in at Martin's office, though illegal, was justified because the incinerator represented and continues to represent a serious threat to the population's health and to the surrounding bio-diversity.

Statement by seven "Bennett Trial" environmentalists

WE, THE SEVEN who were arrested following the occupation of Paul Martin's office, consider our action to have been entirely legitimate, justified by an imminent greater danger to the public interest. In alerting the population as to the very real danger the Bennett company's incinerator represented to the population's health and local bio-diversity, we consider that we acted in conformity with our civic duty and responsibility toward the public good. Were we to see a child caught in a house on fire, we would commit the offence of entering that house to save the child. Collective life implies that anyone witnessing a situation where urgent intervention is required, is under obligation to provide assistance in the case where serious consequences may ensue. As responsible members of a democratic society, our actions were guided by the provisions of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms which impose an obligation on every citizen to intervene when the life of a third party is threatened.

Furthermore, the incineration of toxic waste is a source of bio-accumulable organochlores (particularly dioxins and furans) which are found in the atmosphere and contaminate the food chain, giving rise to major health problems, particularly for pregnant women and children. We consider that the peaceful occupation of the riding office was a lesser evil than the poisoning of the population and an entire ecosystem and would like to stress that, in conformity with article 217 of the Criminal Code, every one who undertakes to do an act is under a legal duty to do it if an omission to do the act is or may be dangerous to life, and that in conformity with article 1471 of the Civil Code of Quebec, where a person comes to the assistance of another person, they are exempt from all liability for injury that may result from it.

We are on trial this week but we nonetheless consider that our action was carried out within the definition of an act of civic duty, such as those honoured by the mention civic honour, thereby rewarding acts of courage or dedication in difficult circumstances.

If on the one hand we are guided by the democratic principles of life within society, Bennett Environmental flouts these principles by imposing a dangerous project without prior public consultation. For us, it seems inconceivable that a company which has violated Quebec environmental norms and failed in its commitments by illegally stockpiling PCBs on Quebec territory, would receive the confidence of elected members while the population, in exercising its right to information by demanding an independent impact study, has its democratic right to consultation stolen.

Furthermore, we feel that it is incumbent on Bennett to prove without a doubt that its project will in no way have any harmful consequences on the population's health, the environment and the sustained development of the Acadian peninsula, by calling upon independent scientific sources. It seems irrational to us that the population concerned has to fight to obtain access to information from an impartial source.

Consequently, we will go to trial and assume responsibility for our actions while firmly believing that the real criminals are those who show contempt for the population by handicapping their future, eroding their surroundings and refusing them any decision-making power, information and respect.

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Turning an incinerator into a Teddy Bear
Irving-owned media's coverage of Bennett Environmental's incinerator in Belledune, NB. ASAF RASHID

On the web:
Belledune Toxic Waste Incinerator / Info sur l'incinérateur de Belledune

Coalition retour à l'expéditeur: Coalition contre le projet d'incinérateur de sols contaminés à Belledune

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