A tiny Quebec village is crowdfunding its defence after an oil company filed a $1.5-million lawsuit against it.
The Gaspésie village of Ristigouche-Sud-Est is being sued by Gastem, a Quebec-based oil and gas exploration and development company, for passing a bylaw in March 2013 establishing a two-kilometre no-drill zone near its municipal water sources.
Now the town, which is home to 168 people, is facing a lawsuit five times its annual budget.
Gastem president Raymond Savoie said the passage of the bylaw was done without consulting the company.
Savoie said the company has provincial government permits to drill in zones the village is trying to protect.
Ristigouche-Sud-Est mayor François Boulay launched a $225,000 fundraising campaign on Tuesday for its legal defence against Gastem.
The town set up a website to solicit online and mail-in donations. It has so far raised just under $15,000.
He said that the town has already spent more than a third of that on lawyers.
New rule came too late
Quebec’s Environment Minister David Heurtel last week brought in a new regulation on oil and gas drilling near waterways, establishing a 500-metre protected perimeter around potable water sources.
More than 70 Quebec towns have adopted similar bylaws.
“If Minister Heurtel’s rule from last week was in place at the time the gas company arrived [in Ristigouche], we would not be in the situation we are in today,” Boulay said.
However, Boulay said the Ministry of Municipal Affairs told him it would be inappropriate to get involved in the case because it is subject to a legal proceeding.
Municipal Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau told CBC/Radio-Canada he did not refuse to meet the mayor of Ristigouche-Sud-Est and said he was available to meet Boulay at the end of August to discuss the case.