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Ecojustice lawyers Harry and Kegan sit near large books.

Photo by Emily Chan

press release

B.C. has right to protect environment from toxic spills, Ecojustice tells Supreme Court

January 16, 2020

OTTAWA – Lawyers from Ecojustice appeared in the Supreme Court of Canada today, where they used a novel legal argument to argue that British Columbia has a right and a constitutional duty to protect communities and the environment from toxic spills.

The province is asking the court to rule on whether it has the legal authority to amend its Environmental Management Act. The proposed changes would allow the province to better protect against diluted bitumen spills.

Ecojustice is intervening in the case. The environmental organization argues the province has both a right and a responsibility to amend its law because environmental protection is an underlying constitutional principle — meaning governments have a constitutional duty to protect the environment, even if it isn’t explicitly written into the constitution.

Kegan Pepper-Smith, a lawyer at Ecojustice, issued the following statement on the morning of the hearing:

“Diluted bitumen is toxic. When 3.2 million litres of dilbit spilled into the Kalamazoo River, the harm to wildlife and the environment was devastating and long-lasting.

“Governments at both the provincial and federal level must have the right to protect communities and the environment from a catastrophic dilbit spill.

“Furthermore, Ecojustice says governments have a legal responsibility to protect the environment, a duty so fundamental that it should be deemed an underlying principle in the Canadian Constitution.

“Ecojustice knows this is a novel argument — but we are in unprecedented times. To use the full power of the law to fight for the right to a healthy environment, combat the climate emergency, and defend nature, Ecojustice is prepared to stand in front of the country’s highest court and make bold arguments.”


Ecojustice goes to court and uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment. Its strategic, innovative public interest lawsuits lead to legal precedents that deliver lasting solutions to Canada’s most urgent environmental problems. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, Ecojustice operates offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax.