Fighting to protect important wetlands in Ontario

Environmental Defence Canada Inc. et al. v. Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing et al.
Photo by Viv Lynch via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Program area – Nature Status: In progress
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Duffins Creek wetland complex, near Pickering, Ontario, is a provincially significant wetland that has been targeted by the Ontario government for the development of a warehouse facility.

Provincially Significant Wetlands, such as the Duffins Creek complex, are of huge importance to local communities, helping to mitigate flooding, store carbon, filter water and provide habitat to wildlife.

In late 2020, the Ontario government issued a Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO) to try and push through development on a provincially significant wetland complex despite widespread opposition.

MZOs are meant to be extraordinary measures for provincial ministers. In the past, they were rarely used and were reserved for exceptional circumstances. But in 2020 alone, the Ontario government issued over 30 MZOs to fast-track routine development applications.

The proposed development at Lower Duffins Creek faced considerable opposition from several groups and thousands of citizens. The Williams Treaties First Nations were not consulted and voiced concerns. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority has also rejected development in protected wetlands.

Since the Ford government was elected in Ontario in 2018, they have launched an assault on the province’s environmental protections. They have made major changes to Ontario’s Environmental Assessment Act, the Planning Act and other environmental laws without consulting Ontarians as required by the provinces Environmental Bill of Rights.

In June 2021, the Ontario government revoked the MZO thanks to the dedication of environmental activists, the local community and Indigenous groups who campaigned against the development.

Ecojustice has launched a judicial review on behalf of Environmental Defence and Ontario Nature because MZOs must comply with the mandatory wetland and other protections in the 2020 Provincial Policy Statement. The 2020 Provincial Policy Statement under the Planning Act clearly does not permit development on provincially significant wetlands.

Duffins Creek is a provincially significant wetland system and is of importance to local communities.

This case has the power to set an important precedent in environmental law by ensuring that the Ontario government cannot use MZOs to undermine the fundamentals of Ontario wetland protections.

While the MZO has been revoked, Ecojustice and its clients are now reviewing their next steps for the ongoing lawsuit of the Government of Ontario’s issuing of an MZO for development at Lower Duffins Creek. 

Key developments

Press release

Environmental groups celebrate protection of Lower Duffins Creek Wetland

Developer withdraws permit application for Provincially Significant Wetland Toronto, Ont./ Traditional territories of several First Natio...

September 17, 2021

Press release

Lower Duffins Creek Wetland is finally protected from destruction

Ontario government revokes MZO following pressure from local, environmental and Indigenous Groups Toronto, Ont./ Traditional territories ...

July 8, 2021

Press release

Ontario Government Passes Bill 257: Planning Act Amendments That Unleash Sprawl MZOs From Basic Planning Rules

Province brushes aside expert warnings about threat to the environment, the rule of law – and the future solvency of municipal governments...

April 13, 2021

Press release

Environmental groups secure halt to impending destruction of Lower Duffins Creek Wetland

 Ontario government must halt legal attacks on planning laws and repeal MZO For immediate release: March 15, 2021 Toronto, Ont./ Trad...

March 15, 2021


Conserving Ontario’s intact wetlands is vital to protecting biodiversity

When you think of Ontario’s landscape, you might picture soaring skyscrapers from some of the province’s busy cities, the rocky and mine...

March 11, 2021

Press release

Environmental groups file urgent motion to stop destruction of Lower Duffins Creek Wetland

Ontario government is trying to run roughshod over its own planning laws Toronto, Ont./ Traditional territories of several First Nations ...

March 8, 2021

Press release

Statement from Environmental Defence, Ontario Nature and Ecojustice on Bill 257 regarding legislation to exempt MZOs from planning laws and policy

New law would allow environmentally destructive projects to go forward even if they contravene basic planning rules  Toronto, Ont./ Trad...

March 4, 2021

Press release

Environmental groups sue to keep Ontario wetlands protected

Ontario government issued a Ministerial Zoning Order for an unlawful development that endangers the protected Lower Duffins Creek wetland co...

November 30, 2020


Ontario under Doug Ford

Ontarians have worked incredibly hard to secure strong environmental protections for the province. Ontario was the first jurisdiction in No...

November 23, 2020


Warning: ‘disaster capitalism’

Update (June 24, 2020): We first wrote this blog in early April 2020. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve witnessed governments suspend ...

April 8, 2020

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