In 2012, our clients launched a lawsuit over the federal government’s continued failure to implement the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Ecojustice lawyers represented five organizations in their challenge to the Minister of Environment’s and Minister of Fisheries and Oceans’ multi-year delays in producing recovery strategies for four at-risk species. The four species at issue were the Nechako white sturgeon, marbled murrelet, Pacific humpback whales and southern mountain caribou.
Construction and operation of the Northern Gateway project would have negative effects on all four species and would threaten their habitat, which lies along the proposed pipeline and shipping route. Delaying recovery strategies makes it easier for industrial projects to speed through regulatory review without a full understanding of the long-term impacts on wildlife species and their habitat.
In 2014, the Federal Court found that the federal government acted unlawfully by delaying recovery strategies for the four species (Western Canada Wilderness Committee v. Canada [Fisheries and Oceans], 2014 FC 148).
The federal government is required by law to produce a recovery strategy that identifies species’ critical habitat based on the best available scientific information and Aboriginal traditional knowledge. But Ottawa has delayed completion of recovery strategies for 188 at-risk species. Some of these delays stretch years past the mandatory deadlines set out in SARA. More than 80 recovery strategies are five or more years overdue.
Recovery strategies are an important first step to ensure these at-risk species have their habitat protected. We believe that governments must be held to account when they fail to uphold their legal commitments to Canadians and the natural world.
Just prior to and after the court victory, the federal government issued recovery strategies for all four species. The decision is a big win for the four species, but is also a victory for the rest of Canada’s wildlife struggling to survive without adequate protection of their habitat. The pressure is now on the federal government to step up and find a way to produce meaningful recovery strategies for the more than 160 species that still need them.