Thursday, 10 January 2008

When everyone has jurisdiction, who is the highest authority?

Historically, western society, hell any society, is based on a division of jurisdiction and responsibilities. We have tiers and layers and boundaries to help us distinguish who has what authority.

Which is why I find this case troubling. It has been ruled that US pollution laws apply to a Canadian company that was discharging waste in compliance with Canadian law. In isolation, I could see how this case has merit. Except for the following cases:

Canadian women ski jumpers filing a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, arguing the Olympic movement is discriminating against them

A Canadian facing the death penalty in Montana is taking Canada’s Conservative government to court over its decision not to object to his execution

Poland probes Vancouver Taser Incident

And the most egregious one of all, the Helms-Burton Act

Each case has an authority investigating and potentially imposing a decision on an area outside its jurisdiction, even outside the country it is in. Call it knee-jerk, but I find this new trend a troubling development.

Canadian supporters of the US case against Teck Cominco view the Supreme Courts judgement as precedent setting. The one example I heard, is now Ontario citizens can sue US based coal fired electricity generating plants for contaminating our air. In Waterloo Region, where I live, it is estimated that 50% of our air pollution comes from the Ohio valley generating stations. This argument is appealing as my health is affected by these US companies.

However. The reason why Teck Cominco has to worry about being sued in the US is, it has assets in the US that the government can seize as part of a ruling. Ontario has no such leverage over Ohio based generating stations. So this Ontario can sue Ohio argument is a straw man.

Hence my concern. In interjurisdictional squabblings, the game is heavily tilted in favour of the US. Damn near any Canadian company is doing business in the US, and is therefore at risk in the US for actions it takes in Canada. The reverse is not true.

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