Protecting Canada’s national parks from commercial encroachment

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society v. Maligne Tours Ltd.
Photo by Stefania Mazzucco
Program area – Nature Status: Victory
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The national parks system is crucial to protecting Canada’s unique biodiversity and natural legacy, and essential to our national identity and cultural heritage. Parks Canada is the agency entrusted to fulfill this responsibility: To protect the ecological integrity of Canada’s national parks for present and future generations.

That's why in October 2015, Ecojustice lawyers, on behalf of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and Jasper Environmental Association, went to Federal Court seeking an order to quash Parks Canada’s concept approval to build 15 overnight commercial tent cabins at Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park.

In addition to disturbing the natural environment at Maligne Lake, the concept approval directly contravened Japser National Park's 2010 Management Plan — which prohibits the release of new land for overnight commercial accommodations outside of the Jasper town site. Contravening its own park Management Plan could set a dangerous precedent for the protection of national parks across Canada.

The commercial proposal also posed potential risks to park wildlife, including the endangered Maligne caribou herd and local grizzly bear populations.  At the time of this lawsuit, the Maligne herd had dwindled to just four individuals — one female and three males.

In February 2016, the Federal Court handed down its decision in this case, and made clear that projects inconsistent with park management plans cannot be approved by Parks Canada. (Canadian Parks and Wildeness Society v Maligne Tours Ltd., 2016 FC 148.)

We entrust Parks Canada to ensure that our national parks get the protection they need in order to preserve their ecological integrity for present and future generations. When Parks approved the Maligne Lake tent cabin proposal, it not only directly contravened an existing management plan put in place to protect the park, but it also put commercial interests above those of nature.

We believe that efforts to preserve the ecological integrity of Canada’s national parks should be backed by the full weight of the law. If the proposal was left unchallenged, it could have set a bad precedent and opened the floodgates to even more development throughout Canada’s national parks.

What does this victory mean?

Although the Court did not outright quash the Maligne Lake tent cabin proposal, the case did set an important precedent: Projects that are inconsistent with a park management plan cannot be approved by Parks Canada. The court has essentially put Parks Canada on notice and signalled that future final project approvals that contravene existing management plans can be struck down.

Key developments

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