Environmental groups sue Ontario government over decision to gut species at risk legislation

English: Acadian Flycatcher

Acadian Flycatcher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Toronto – Environmental groups are suing the Ontario government for its decision to exempt major threats to species at risk from the province’s Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Ecojustice lawyers, acting on behalf of Ontario Nature and Wildlands League, have filed a lawsuit in Divisional Court alleging that the Ontario government acted unlawfully by making a regulation that undermines the ESA.

Ontario Regulation 176/13, which came into force under the ESA on July 1, 2013, is a tremendous blow to species protection. The new regulatory changes harm species by allowing major industries — including forestry, energy transmission, housing, oil and gas pipelines, mineral exploration and mine development, transit, wastewater management companies — to avoid strict standards intended to protect at-risk species and their habitats.

“With this regulation, the Ontario government has failed to deliver on its promise to defend endangered species and undermined the role of the legislature by amending the Act through regulation,” said Anastasia Lintner, staff lawyer for Ecojustice. “The best way to safeguard at-risk species is to enforce the ESA as intended.”

The lawsuit is based on two main grounds:

  • The regulatory exemptions undermine the ESA’s very purposes, which are “to protect species that are at risk and their habitats, and to promote the recovery of species at risk.”
  • The Minister of Natural Resources, David Orazietti, failed to consider the impacts of the regulations on each of the 155 species listed under the Act as either endangered or threatened before recommending that the regulations be made by Cabinet.

“The government has abandoned Ontario’s most imperilled wildlife, reneging on its promise to give these species the protection they desperately need,” said Caroline Schultz, executive director at Ontario Nature. “Our once gold-standard law has been tarnished beyond recognition.”

Sections 9 and 10 of the ESA prohibit harm to species at risk and their habitat without Ministry approval or specific exemption. This new regulation circumvents the approval process and allows large industrial sectors to act without Ministry oversight and to focus on mitigating harm instead of protecting at-risk species.

“This is an act of desperation, changing the law so that it protects industry instead of at-risk animals and plants,” said Anna Baggio, Director Conservation Planning for Wildlands League. “I thought we had moved past the old Joni Mitchell song. We can’t support a government that would pave paradise to put up a parking lot.”

Some of Ontario’s 155 at-risk species threatened by the regulation include the American Eel, Blanding’s Turtle, Lakeside Daisy, Eastern Hog-nosed Snake, Acadian Flycatcher and the iconic Woodland Caribou.

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