For years, the Nova Scotia government has failed to adequately protect species-at-risk in the province. We took them to court to ensure they follow their own law, the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Nova Scotia’s ESA sets out timelines and milestones for species recovery. But for years, the province has treated the law like a vague guideline rather than as the law of the land.
In 2015, our clients at East Coast Environmental Law sounded the alarm over Nova Scotia’s poor implementation of the ESA. Their report concluded the government had failed to comply with the law for 20 out of 37 species in decline.
A year later, Nova Scotia’s auditor general similarly condemned the provincial government’s inaction and made five recommendations for improvement. The province still has yet to fulfill those recommendations.
In May 2020, Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court ruled that the ESA is not a set of vague or voluntary guidelines – it is the law. The Court found that the Nova Scotia government is required to fulfill the law’s mandatory requirements to protect some of the province’s most vulnerable species. (Bancroft v. Nova Scotia [Lands and Forests], 2020 NSSC 175.)
This was the first time the ESA had been interpreted in the court in Nova Scotia, and the outcome would have significant impacts on species recovery in the province. We intervened to argue before the court that government should be required to enforce legal protections for species at risk, as well as consider Nova Scotia’s ESA within the broader context of endangered species across Canada. In a time of biodiversity crisis, species need adequate protection under the law – and these laws need to be enforced.
This victory means that the Nova Scotia government has to follow their own law and take action on species protected under the Endangered Species Act – to fulfill their current legal obligations at a bare minimum. This is a landmark victory for the province’s endangered species, and the Court’s decision reinforces the fact that stopping biodiversity loss is urgent and important.