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article imageOntario's Eco Commissioner: Intimidation must stop

By Stephanie Dearing     Oct 7, 2009 in Environment
In Gord Miller's annual environmental report, which outlines the state of Ontario's environment, he said that developers in Ontario have too much leeway when they are allowed to file lawsuits against citizens that protest planned developments.
Ontario's Environmental Commissioner was critical of the development process saying, "Citizen groups fighting to protect natural areas need some protection against intimidating legal tactics."
His annual report was also critical of legislation, such as buffer zones required by the Ministry of Natural Resources, which Miller says may often be inadequate to protect endangered amphibians, such as the Jefferson Salamander, a species found in Guelph this year. Calling amphibians "canaries in the global coal mine," Miller called on the Ministry of Natural Resources to monitor amphibian populations in Ontario, as well as developing and leading a plan to protect and conserve amphibian species.
Miller made 11 recommendations, the first of which calls on the province to better protect significant wetlands. Other recommendations include reforming land-use planning so that developers cannot intimidate opponents with law suits. He urges the Ministry of Environment to consider ordering municipal engineers to reform their assessments to include bicycle transportation. He also recommends that the Richmond Landfill site be closed immediately.
Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario New Democrat Party, lauded the call for "anti-slapp" legislation, referring to the lawsuits leveled against citizen opponents by developers, saying that the NDP had tabled an anti-slapp bill last year. The lawsuits that are filed against opponents can be worth millions of dollars. The City of Guelph, for instance, slapped trespassers who infiltrated a development site earlier this summer to stop work on an environmentally sensitive site faced a lawsuit of $5 million. The planned business park expansion is slated to sit on lands that are divided by two Provincially Significant Wetlands, which is also home to an old growth forest. Earlier this year, a Jefferson-hybrid salamander was found near the lands to be developed.
Many people who have been fighting developments this past summer that have been planned by municipalities will be disappointed that Miller did not include municipalities in his recommendations to protect people who oppose developments. Most notable is the fight between the municipality of Elmvale, which in its zeal to move forward with a long-planned landfill site, engaged in actions that could be characterized as intimidation against people opposing Site 41. The landfill site was scheduled to be built this summer on top of the Alliston Aquifer. One woman outlined details of a day of protest that started with a First Nations prayer ceremony. Up to 20 Provincial Police controlled the movements of the protesters that day, the protesters said. During the fight with municipal government against the landfill, senior citizens were among the opponents who were arrested and charged with mischief.
While Ontarians have an Environmental Bill of Rights that gives the public a voice when it comes to protecting Ontario's environment, many might say that without legislation to disallow the threats of law suits by developers erodes those rights. In fact, many Ontarians have fought various developments unsuccessfully. The business park development in Guelph, for example, had been opposed by people and the development issue went to the Ontario Municipal Board, who approved the development. It was only the occupation of the site by activists and the subsequent court case that brought a temporary halt to the development. The development is now under the purview of the Ministry of Natural Resources. Donna Cansfield said that the project would be reviewed in the spring of 2010. Site 41 has a similar story, and a concerted effort by opponents saw the successful issuance of a one-year moratorium on the development.
Ontario's Environmental Commissioner is appointed by Ontario's legislative assembly. His job is to monitor and report on Ontario's compliance with the Environmental Bill of Rights.
More about Intimidation tactics, Amphibians, Jefferson salamander, Provincially significant wetlands, Ontario environmental commissioner
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