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article imageOp-Ed: Altered environmental laws pose risk to Canada, warns Ecojustice Special

By Grace C. Visconti     Nov 4, 2012 in Environment
Calgary - As the controversial Canada-China Investment Treaty may become a reality, Ecojustice, one of Canada’s foremost independent non-profit organizations, encourages passionate Canadians to support the environmental integrity of Canada.
The support of passionate-minded Canadians who value environmental integrity and stewardship is needed right now as the Canada-China Investment Treaty may become a reality. With increased oilsands production and the implementation of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, certain species at risk are on the verge of becoming another statistic. Ecojustice, one of Canada’s foremost independent non-profit organizations assisting in legal proceedings for a wide range of environmental issues and laws, has put information on the Ecojustic.ca website to make Canadians more aware of the latest urgent issues since Bill C-38 was passed into law.
Currently, the most urgent issue is the pending final approval of the Canada-China Investment Treaty that has not even had a debate regarding the net benefit for Canada. Once signed, Canada will be locked in to this Treaty and protect the rights of investors for the next 31 years. Maude Barlow, National Chairperson for the Council of Canadians, stresses the necessity for debate before this treaty is hastily approved because the provinces won’t have the power to fight for environmental justice in their own country.
Ecojustice is made up of lawyers and scientists who provide expert advice to citizens and groups that take polluters to task. Their main goal is to ensure that governments enforce their own environmental laws. Ecojustice got assistance from Earthjustice when the organization got started. Founded in 1990 as the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, a team of two lawyers working out of a cramped Vancouver office inspired by the cause initiated the action to start Ecojustice. The organization has grown exponentially since then with more than a dozen staff lawyers and scientists representing Ecojustice in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, and Calgary.
This organization focuses on the very public battle between government, citizens and environmental law enforcement. Ecojustice is supported by 30,000 Canadians and that number is growing as people become more aware of the necessity to fight for environmental justice. The consequent growth of Ecojustice and the need for legal representation is celebrated by past landmark victories at all levels of court concerning the policy and practice of governments at the municipal, provincial, federal and international levels.
Devon Page, Executive Director of Ecojustice, shares, “Our inception started because of an Earthjustice lawyer Stewart Elgie who was working in Alaska and saw the need for the same service in Canada. We started in 1991.” Canada is fortunate to have representation by this group of lawyers and scientists, as the battle intensifies in Canada and the US to install the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline.
Ecojustice’s defense of the environment focuses on four areas: clean water; natural spaces; healthy communities; and climate protection. Devon Page defines the Ecojustice mandate. “The most profile we have received recently is our endangered species work most of which is in western Canada which has gotten media attention. Our mission is to use the law to protect and restore Canada’s environment and our primary activities is litigation. We offer free legal services to anyone as long as the issue and result will create a long-term benefit for the environment.”
Presently in the spotlight are three cases featuring these species at risk: Caribou, Sage Grouse, and the Killer Whale. The Caribou reside next to the oilsands so they are dying as they lose their habitat. In this backgrounder Species at Risk recovery strategy delay litigation | Fall 2012, it describes the lawsuit challenging the federal government’s multi-year delays in producing recovery strategies for four species at risk; the Pacific Humpback Whale, Nechako White Sturgeon, Marbled Murrelet, and Southern Mountain Caribou. These species will be affected by the Northern Gateway pipeline and shipping route.
The Ecojustice fall newsletter, presents four easy ways you can take action and stand up for Canada’s endangered species because once they are extinct they are gone for good. The Species at Risk Act is one of the last effective environmental laws left after Bill C-38.
Fighting for any cause legally and winning however, does not guarantee an ultimate victory. Page explains how these attributes can be undermined by an opposing force such as the federal Progressive Conservative government catering to the desires of big business instead of the people. “In the environmental world we are not that well known because we have a very discrete area of expertise. When it comes to the public being aware of Ecojustice, they learn about us from media associated with our legal activities for environmental issues and our court cases tend to be high profile. We don’t run public campaigns because we focus on court cases so this is what gets the attention of the media. Some of the amendments are a direct response to our court wins. So when we forced the government to implement the law, they responded by eliminating the law.”
Without living up to its legal duty to enforce Canada’s Species at Risk law, it will weaken its requirements therefore making this law less effective. Ironically, the Species at Risk law is about to be revamped by the federal government because Ecojustice would most likely win the court cases.
“Initiatives that we devoted a lot of our time to was uploading a lot of content on our website so that the public could understand what was being proposed and what was at risk. It will set us back 30 – 50 years meaning that a lot of industries will get their way. Canada already had weak laws regarding protecting the environment. I have no faith in a voluntary industry program to offset losing strong laws that protected the environment. In the short-term, it might not be beneficial to protect the environment for industry. It was only this year that the oil industry agreed to set up a monitoring system for the oilsands. For 35 years they have had no monitoring of the oilsands for the environment and human health impacts and no comprehensive legal system.”
Since industry hasn’t mastered the art of monitoring now, there is doubt with increased production that industry will get the safeguards secured in time especially with the pressure of other countries wanting to make money from Canada’s natural resources.
“I don’t think anything has happened that will ensure better monitoring of pipelines. It’s as much access as it is monitoring. It won’t be an issue of monitoring the spill. They won’t have an access to clean up or repair a spill because they will be installing the pipeline in rugged and remote wilderness. There aren’t any people in these remote areas to be the first responders. Question is how will they monitor the pipelines through this rugged remote territory?”

After the authorization of Bill C-38, it is impossible to repeal the 7 environmental laws that were gutted and successfully altered. Page explains, “A majority government can do what it sees fit in terms of the law. They have to write a law consistent with the Charter and provided the law is consistent, they can pass any law they want.” Bill C-38 changed the environmental landscape for citizens, activists, government, and industry permanently. It is highly unlikely that with the scope of the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines that safety measures will be thoroughly enforced in these massive pipeline projects due to past spills with smaller projects and the inability to respond in a reasonable time frame.
Devon Page, lawyer and passionate environmental advocate for Ecojustice, sends an honest yet cryptic message to all Canadians regarding the environmental integrity of Canada. “Bill C-38 will make the environment more polluted and less safe. We cannot have unregulated industry and a healthy environment. The oil industry is as sincere as they want to be to achieve the profit they want. We have to get away from protecting the environment as a cost to industry and move to the point where we recognize it as a benefit to society.”
LINKS
Why aren’t we debating the Canada-China investment pact? – Globe and Mail
Video: Demonstrators pack lawn at legislature in Victoria
The Canada-China Investment Treaty Cannot be Ratified Without Provinces’ Approval
Why Our Water Is At Risk – Maude Barlow
7 stories to keep you informed about Canada’s environment
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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