When Quebec residents living in the St. Lawrence River lowlands noticed industrial activity and even drilling in their backyards, they were outraged. They had not been consulted or informed that the government of Quebec had given industry the green light to conduct shale gas exploration.
Inter Pares counterpart La Ligue des Droits et Libertés decided for the first time to take on an environmental case. La Ligue, dedicated to safeguarding and promoting human rights, was concerned that the lack of adequate public consultation contravened human rights standards. The right to live in a healthy environment is protected under the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms and under international human rights law, notably the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Shale gas exploration and exploitation require large amounts of water and the use of toxic chemicals, posing a serious risk to human life in the event of contamination. La Ligue was also troubled by the breakdown of trust between the provincial government and the citizens of Quebec regarding the impact of resource extraction projects.
Because La Ligue is a human rights rather than an environmental organization, it brought a new perspective to the discussion. Its understanding of civil and political rights in collective decision-making, and its focus on the economic, social and cultural impacts of shale gas exploration and exploitation, complemented the debate.
In response to widespread outcry, the government asked the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) to hold public hearings. The BAPE issued its report in March, preventing exploitation and allowing exploration solely for the purposes of scientific research until a full environmental assessment is complete. The provincial government recently announced the composition of the environmental assessment committee; citizens groups have no seat on that committee. La Ligue and others continue to ask for a moratorium on shale gas until the public can be meaningfully involved and apprised of its risks and opportunities. And La Ligue is asking, as a way to nurture public confidence, that human rights concerns be part of any environmental consultation.