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April 2012

Who is silenced under Canada’s new environmental assessment act?

27 April, 2012

With the release of the proposed new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, we can say a bit more about the possible impact of changes to environmental assessment on the right of the public to participate in assessments.  Our initial analysis of Bill C-38 suggests that there is cause for concern:  If this new CEAA becomes law, then for some types of environmental assessments, the public will still have a right to participate – but for others (notably pipeline projects) – the government may not want to hear from you unless the pipeline goes through your property or you have a degree (or other special qualifications or information).

Earlier this week we warned that there were signals that amendments to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) might silence not just environmentalists, also but hunters, fishers, land owners, and others by restricting public participation to those who are “directly affected.” 

“Directly affected” silences hunters, fishers, landowners ... and environmentalists

24 April, 2012

Natural Resources Minister, Joe Oliver, recently stated that proposed changes to Canada’s environmental laws will (if passed) prevent anyone who is not “directly affected” from speaking at environmental reviews. But public participation has always been central to environmental assessment.  "Directly affected" is a narrow legal test that would silence not just environmentalists, but also land owners, hunters, fishers, industry associations, community groups and members of the public.  And in doing so, it would undermine the social licence that industry needs to operate. 

Natural Resources Minister, Joe Oliver, recently stated that proposed changes to Canada’s environmental laws will (if passed) prevent anyone who is not “directly affected” from speaking at environmental reviews.  Oddly enough, much of the media coverage characterized this as shutting out environmentalists, rather than shutting out everyone not “directly affected” by a development (which it does).  See, for example, coverage by

The goal: “One process” that complies with Canada’s international commitments

20 April, 2012

20 years ago Canada signed the Rio Declaration, committing us to carry out "environmental impact assessment, as a national instrument … [on] proposed activities that are likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment and are subject to a decision of a competent national authority."  Claims of duplication and inefficiencies make compelling speaking points, the federal government's current proposals to "modernize" environmental assessment will, among other things:

  • Renege on Canada’s commitment to the world to assess the impacts of government decisions on the environment;
  • Eliminate all environmental assessments for a great many projects, up to and including mines, hydroelectric projects, incinerators, bridges, etc.; 
  • Result in inconsistent, and often weaker, environmental assessment across the country.

It’s easy to forget, with the current government’s overhaul of Canada’s environmental assessment laws, that it was another Conservative Government which, almost 20 years ago, committed internationally to developing a national environmental assessment process and to involving the public in environmental decision-making. It was Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who, in 1992 signed the Rio Declaration on the Environment and Economy on behalf of Canada. 

How should we slap back at SLAPPs?

11 April, 2012

In the wake of recent David vs. Goliath lawsuits by Taseko Mines against the Wilderness Committee and Mainstream Canada against Don Staniford, it's timely to ask how we can best defend freedom of speech.  Staniford's lawyer, David Sutherland, proposes a legal change that would prevent corporations from suing in defamation.  We'd like to know what you think.  Does that strike the right balance between freedom of speech and corporate brand?  Would it be more effective than the Anti-SLAPP legislation that West Coast has pushed for? 

We were alarmed to hear that Taseko Mines Ltd., the company that wants to develop the controversial Prosperity Mine, is suing the Wilderness Committee and one of its employees.  This is a disturbing reminder that the law is sometimes stacked against individuals and groups concerned about the protection of the environment, and that big business can wield a big legal stick. 

Drinking water wins in Jefferd Creek logging battle

10 April, 2012

In 2004 the residents of the tiny community of Stillwater, near Powell River, learned that BC Timber Sales (BCTS) was planning to auction off the rights to clearcut 12.5 hectares in the Jefferd Creek watershed, which is the source of their drinking water.  Well, it’s been a long fight, but after 8 years and a series of grants to the Committee for the Protection of Jefferd Creek from West Coast’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund, BCTS has agreed to scale its proposed 12.5 hectare cut down to 1.5 hectares – located well away from the Creek – because of concerns about the drinking water impacts.  Congratulations to the Committee and to the Stillwater Improvement District for this victory for common sense. 

In 2004 the residents of the tiny community of Stillwater, near Powell River, learned that BC Timber Sales (BCTS) was planning to auction off the rights to clearcut 12.5 hectares in the Jefferd Creek watershed, which is the source of their drinking water.  Well, it’s been a long fight, but after 8 years and a series of grants to the Committee for the Protection of Jefferd Creek from West Coast’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund, BCTS has agreed to scale its proposed