By Doug Hallett
City hall has bowed to pressure from Nestlé Waters Canada by pulling the planned screening of an American documentary that attacks the bottled water industry.
Nestlé objected to the screening of the documentary Tapped, one of three films that city hall and Wellington Water Watchers planned to jointly present free of charge in September.
The other two films – Running Dry and Waterlife – were screened. But the planned screening of Tapped last month was cancelled after a Nestlé official sent Mayor Karen Farbridge a Sept. 7 letter complaining about this film.
Farbridge responded with a Sept. 12 letter saying city staff had “reassessed” and changed the content of the water conservation movie series. Both letters were made public last Thursday on Coun. Ian Findlay’s Ward 2 blog.
When officials in the city’s waterworks department took another look at Tapped, there was “some question about the American content,” Wayne Galliher, the city’s water conservation project manager, said Friday.
Waterworks officials plan to work with Wellington Water Watchers and the broader community to try to replace Tapped with “another more representative Canadian content based” movie for future screening in place of Tapped, he said in an interview.
The three-movie series was planned to be about “water management challenges that are faced globally, for the most part,” Galliher said.
In his Sept. 7 letter, Nestlé Waters Canada director of corporate affairs John Challinor objects only to Tapped, not the other two films. He says the film has an entirely American perspective, “constructs a distorted and misleading picture of bottled water as a product” and unfairly criticizes Nestlé’s “North American practices in Maine and elsewhere.” His letter accuses the film of setting out to “demonize bottled water.”
Challinor’s letter to Farbridge included a thinly veiled threat to speak ill of Guelph to national and international companies unless the city scrapped the screening. “As a member of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, we are fully aware of ongoing efforts by the city to position itself as a business-friendly place to invest,” Challinor wrote after outlining in detail some economic benefits for Guelph of Nestlé Waters Canada’s bottling plant and headquarters in Aberfoyle. Then he added: “Given that we are occasionally sought out by national and international business concerns to offer our perspective on Canada, Ontario and Guelph as places to invest, I would appreciate receiving your guidance about how we should respond to any future outreach by commercial interests regarding Guelph’s suitability as a place to invest.”
In her Sept. 12 reply, Farbridge said that because Guelph is one of the largest communities in Canada dependent on groundwater for its drinking water, “community water literacy and associated civic engagement are important tools in meeting the city’s unique future water sustainability challenges.”
The water conservation movie series was developed to “bring awareness to a variety of global water management issues,” she said.
“Selection of content for this series was aimed to provide the greatest diversity in water management challenges and was not purposefully intended to impact negatively on our local business,” Farbridge wrote. “Furthermore, the content and perspectives shared in the film offerings do not reflect the views of the City of Guelph and are solely those of the filmmakers.”
City staff reassessed and amended the offerings “in recognition of local sensitivities” outlined in Challinor’s letter, she said.