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Nova Scotia

Fighting to protect the sensitive environment of the Northumberland Strait

Northern Pulp et al. v Nova Scotia (Environment) et al.

November 13, 2020

For decades beginning in the mid-sixties, Northern Pulp dumped millions of gallons of toxic effluent from its pulp mill into Boat Harbour, Nova Scotia — located adjacent to Pictou Landing First Nation — each and every day.  

The use of Boat Harbour as a toxic dumping ground was labelled  one of the worst cases of environmental racism in the province. This place of cultural significance to the Pictou Landing First Nation was repeatedly plagued by numerous effluent leaks and the accumulation of chemicals, solids and heavy metals — including dioxins, furans and heavy metals, like mercury, zinc and chromium. 

In 2015, the provincial government passed legislation that would require Northern Pulp to cease using Boat Harbour to treat its effluent by January 31, 2020. In a last-ditch effort to stay operational, the company proposed a different system that would treat its effluent on site and then carry it through a 15km-long pipeline into the prime fishing grounds of the Northumberland Strait.  

This proposal brought with it numerous concerns about its risks to air, water, fish and human health from the Pictou Landing First Nation, community groups — including Friends of the Northumberland Strait — and fishers from across the Maritimes. 

In 2018, to help raise concerns about Northern Pulp’s proposed plan, we teamed up with Friends of the Northumberland Strait to protect the sensitive environment of the Northumberland Strait. 

In 2019, the Nova Scotia government ordered a full environmental assessment report for Northern Pulp’s proposed treatment facility, the company was forced to stop using Boat Harbour to dump its effluent from the pulping process, and the mill suspended its operations. 

In 2021, Northern Pulp decided to change its proposal and seek approval for a redesigned treatment facility. In 2021, Environment and Climate Change Minister Keith Irving announced that a proposed $350 million revamp of the mill will undergo a Class 2 environmental assessment, which would have been longer and more stringent than a Class 1 assessment. 

Then in 2024, in a major win for the community and the environment, the company announced it would be closing the plant’s doors for good. This outstanding outcome was the result of years of work by the Friends of the Northumberland Strait, Pictou Landing First Nation, and many others, demonstrating the power of communities standing up to hold industry polluters to account. 

The Northumberland Strait is home to rich fisheries and contains spawning grounds for many types of marine life, including lobster, scallops, herring, tuna and Atlantic salmon. Keeping the Northumberland Strait healthy is vital to the surrounding communities, fishers and local businesses. 

That’s why Ecojustice joined forces with Friends of the Northumberland Strait to successfully make the case that Northern Pulp has never provided solid scientific evidence to show that it could discharge effluent into the Strait without causing irreparable environmental harm — and that the Nova Scotia government should reject Northern Pulp’s plan. 

The Nova Scotia government’s decision to stand by its promise to close Boat Harbour on January 31, 2020 was good news for Pictou Landing First Nation, the environment, and fishers in the region. After half-baked efforts by Northern Pulp to address serious environmental and health concerns, the plant ultimately ceased operations for good in May 2024. 

When Ecojustice joined this process in 2018, the possibility of the mill’s closure seemed like a far off and unlikely outcome, yet here we are! This milestone is largely thanks to the incredible work of our client, Friends of Northumberland Strait. They were always at least one step ahead of Northern Pulp and refused to accept the continued pollution of their community. FONS is an outstanding model for how a community can be mobilized and unified to resist powerful corporate pressure. 

While we are celebrating this victory, Northern Pulp is considering building a new pulp mill near Liverpool Bay, Nova Scotia. This would only move the problems that plagued Boat Harbour into another community and would put at risk the small remaining population of critically endangered Southern Upland Atlantic Salmon. We’ll be standing by if the Province thinks of allowing the company to operate a mill on beautiful Liverpool Bay. 

Ecojustice staff

Sarah McDonald

James Gunvaldsen Klaassen


Friends of Northumberland Strait

Dec 2019
Minister's decision on northern pulp's effluent treatment facility in northumberland strait
press release

We applaud your decision, Premier McNeil: Friends of the Northumberland Strait and Ecojustice

“We are overjoyed that Premier McNeil, on behalf of the people of Nova Scotia, has stood by the promise to close Boat Harbour on January 31, 2020,” says Jill Graham-Scanlan, President of Friends of the Northumberland Strait (FONS).
Oct 2019
A photo of the Northumberland Strait
press release

Give the public more time to respond to Northern Pulp’s Focus Report, says Ecojustice

HALIFAX, 10 October 2019 — On behalf of the Friends of the Northumberland Strait, Ecojustice has asked Minister of Environment Gordon Wilson to give the public more time to review Northern Pulp’s Focus Report, which was released on October 3 and contains more than 2,500 pages of complex information.
Mar 2019
press release

Statement: Ecojustice supports deferral of Northern Pulp decision to 2020

HALIFAX, 29 March, 2019 – The Environment Minister of Nova Scotia, Margaret Miller, announced today that she would require Northern Pulp to prepare and submit a focus report before she makes a decision on whether to approve plans to allow effluent from the mill to be released into the Northumberland Strait.
Feb 2019
press release

Ecojustice: Environment minister in conflict of interest, must step away from Northern Pulp assessment

HALIFAX – The province’s Minister of Environment has a conflict of interest in relation to Northern Pulp’s proposed effluent treatment facility and should step away from an environmental assessment of the project, environmental law charity Ecojustice said in a letter sent yesterday on behalf of Friends of the Northumberland Strait.
Sep 2018
press release

Ecojustice joins forces with Friends of the Northumberland Strait to build the case against Northern Pulp’s effluent pipe plan

Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity, has teamed up with Friends of the Northumberland Strait (FONS) to build the case against Northern Pulp’s plan to pump millions of litres of treated pulp effluent into the prime fishing grounds of the Northumberland Strait daily.