Update: On January 26, a Quebec Superior Court judge refused an injunction against the Northvolt plant east of Montreal. “If there is a public interest in protecting the environment, there is also a public interest in protecting the legal certainty of activities authorized by the public administration,” wrote Justice David Collier.
Swedish battery manufacturer Northvolt AB is facing legal action and complaining about what it calls “sabotage” after the company began clearing trees for its C$7-billion manufacturing plant in Saint-Basile-le-Grand, east of Montreal.
On Wednesday, lawyers for the Centre québécois du droit de l’environnement (CQDE) asked the Quebec Superior Court for an injunction on the construction megaproject, arguing that the city “lacked the authority to greenlight the cutting of wetland trees to make way for the Northvolt plant,” CBC reports. “The group also says the Quebec government, which is also named in the injunction request, should have acted to protect environmentally important ecosystems that will be bulldozed to make way for the factory.”
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CQDE said citizens should have more input given the size of the project. “It’s clear now that significant public participation is key for large industrial projects,” said one of the group’s lawyers, Marc Bishai.
Late Tuesday, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke announced it had filed with the Superior Court to require provincial and federal governments to consult the community about the battery plant, located about 45 kilometres away, The Canadian Press writes.
“Given the importance of wetlands to our environment and their role in helping to mitigate the effects of climate change, we fully support the decision to file this lawsuit,” said Benjamin Green-Stacey, director of the Kahnawà:ke Environment Protection Office. “Additionally, failure to mitigate the effects of this construction will result in the senseless loss of many species at risk in the area.”
The court action took place after Northvolt was ordered to temporarily suspend construction and said it would do so “out of respect for the ongoing legal process”. Then on Monday night, an anonymous group drove nails or metal bars into about 100 tree trunks on the 170-hectare site.
The company called that sabotage, CP says, warning in an email that the tactics could pose “significant risks for the safety of workers and surrounding communities.”
The anonymous group “claimed responsibility on an anarchist website, saying the motive for its ‘sabotage’ was to protest a megaproject it says will destroy woods and wetlands and perpetuate car culture,” CP says. The move “was an attempt to damage heavy machinery and make the forest tougher and costlier to log.”
“Today, we call for a broad mobilization against the destructive project of the Northvolt mega-factory,” the group wrote. “We must attack this machine that grinds up the living by targeting its weak points.”
Federal Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne called the sabotage “completely unacceptable”, describing the Northvolt plant as a “generational opportunity” for Quebec.
Bishai stressed CQDE had nothing to do with the sabotage.
“We immediately thought that this is probably a symptom of deep worry in certain parts of the population,” he said. But “our organization… uses the law and goes before the courts to try to protect the environment, and we will continue to do so.”
Northvolt began cutting more than 10,000 trees on the site last week, prompting the Comité Action Citoyenne Northvolt to flag what it called a lack of transparency around the project, Global News reported.
“We are very disappointed to see that things are starting on the site,” said spokesperson Simon Bouchard. “Yes, we’re building green cars, but if we have to destroy a significant part of the environments to do green cars, are we in the balance of things really doing something useful, or are we just destroying something that we need to replace it by something we don’t really need?”