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Environmental Law Alert Blog

Through our Environmental Law Alert blog, West Coast alerts you to environmental law problems and developments affecting British Columbians. It is the public voice of our Environmental Law Alert unit which is a legal “watchdog” for BC’s environment.

If you have an environmental story that we should hear about, please e-mail Andrew Gage. Also, please feel free to comment on any of the posts to this blog – but please keep in mind our policies on comments.

27 September, 2013

The Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released the first of 4 reports that make up its 5th Assessment Report.  This first report documents the scientific consensus related to rising global temperatures, confirming that humans are “extremely”, or 95%, likely to be causing climate change.  Scientists have one way of talking about certainty.  Lawyers and the law have another.  Applying the law's standards of proof to the IPCC report, a great many specific details of climate change can be proved on a “balance of probabilities” (meaning that they could form the basis for a lawsuit claiming damages).  However, the basic fact that climate change is occurring and it’s caused by humans is known “beyond a reasonable doubt” (which would meet the strict standards of criminal law).  In any event, the reality is that on something as crucial as avoiding run-away climate change, we shouldn’t have to wait for evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt,” or even a 66% chance (which the scientists frame as “likely”).  This is our home we’re talking about here – let’s show a little care.

17 September, 2013

The Yinka Dene Alliance (YDA), a group of First Nations whose territories cover 25 percent of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipelines route, is ramping up enforcement of its own laws in the face of efforts by Enbridge to begin preliminary work in YDA territories for the proposed pipelines.  Meanwhile, the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations recently offered at least two land tenures to Enbridge and expects to finalize and issue the related permits within the next couple weeks.  As the autumn unfolds, the Province’s response to YDA will show whether BC is ready to match the strong stance it has taken against Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline with meaningful action on the ground.

9 September, 2013

Many people seem surprised when I mention the possibility that greenhouse gas emitting companies may one day be held liable for the damages caused by climate change.  And yet, there is no other context in which businesses could cause billions of dollars of damages in Canada each year ($5 Billion per year by 2020 and trillions annually worldwide) and not expect to be sued.  The Journal of Environmental Law and Practice, a peer reviewed law journal, has just published an article that I wrote, Climate change litigation and the public right to a healthy atmosphere, that relies on Canadian and English law regarding water pollution to tackle the human activities that contribute to climate change. 

9 September, 2013

BC’s archaic mining laws have a real cost for BC communities, their environment and their economies. This blog post is the first in a series that highlights the stories of a wide variety of people and places in BC that have felt first-hand the negative impacts of our outdated, gold-rush era mining laws.

During the gold rush, as thousands of prospectors made their way to the west, early colonial legislation gave them a right of “free entry” to most lands in the colony, and established a system for them to acquire mineral rights by “staking a claim”. Over 150 years later, the presence of mineral claims, new or historical, still gives mining activity priority over virtually all other land uses in BC...

6 September, 2013

CBC is reporting that Prime Minister Harper has sent a letter to U.S. President Obama offering to commit to greenhouse gas regulations in return for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. We also wonder what it says about Canada that concern for our children and grandchildren is not enough to convince our government to deliver real climate change laws.  Instead, our government is using the offer of climate change laws as a negotiating chip in a high stakes poker game, played on behalf of TransCanada.

29 August, 2013

I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to have your drinking water, and your entire community, contaminated with jet fuel.  So when some folks who live near Lemon Creek contacted West Coast looking to find out what they had been exposed to, we were happy to write to the government demanding the release of water testing data.  The data was released days later!  But we thought we'd share two legal arguments set out in our letter that may be of use in future situations in which toxic substances escape near homes.

15 August, 2013

This week, the latest chapter in Canada’s David and Goliath struggle between citizens and Big Oil unfolded as a BC non-profit organization, Forest Ethics Advocacy, launched a constitutional challenge to new requirements in the National Energy Board Act that have the effect of silencing citizens concerned about tar sands pipelines.

14 August, 2013

In 1994 Canadians were worried that NAFTA could see our country become a “pollution haven”, and to address those concerns Canada signed on to the NAFTA Environmental Side-Agreement.  Twenty years later we are facing just such a fate.  Please join us in telling the Commission for Environmental Cooperation that Canada has not been living up to its international commitments to maintain strong environmental laws. 

14 August, 2013

UPDATE August 22, 2013: We’re pleased to report a small victory in the case of the missing Skeena! The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has agreed to extend public comment and participant funding deadlines after West Coast Environmental Law and the T. Buck Suzuki Environment Foundation drew attention to an inaccurate map –one that failed to show the Skeena River –used in public notices about the Pacific NorthWest LNG project near Prince Rupert.

30 July, 2013

On Monday, July 22nd the BC Court of Appeal ordered well-known anti- fish farm activist Don Staniford to pay $75,000 in damages because the mock cigarette packages he had made criticizing Norwegian fish farm companies lacked footnotes. What does this mean for fish farm activists?  For the most part, the lessons that we drew from Staniford’s win are still valid – indeed, they are more important than ever:

  • Your conduct during the trial matters
  • Be clear in the scope of your campaign
  • The defence of fair comment provides protection for activists

The BC Court of Appeal judgment does not alter any of these conclusions, although we do need to add a cautionary note or two regarding the defence of fair comment and the importance of providing a factual basis for comments.