In a precedent-setting decision that will impact air, water and waste decisions throughout the province, the Ontario Divisional Court ruled late yesterday that a citizen-led appeal of Lafarge Canada’s plan to burn tires, plastics, bone meal and other waste in Bath, Ontario will go forward.
The Court rejected a last-ditch effort by the Ministry of the Environment and Lafarge to shut down an Environmental Review Tribunal hearing. Lake Ontario Waterkeeper & Gord Downie, Clean Air Bath, Loyalist Environmental Coalition, and members of The Tragically Hip won the right to appeal licences for air emissions and a waste site last year. The groups cited concerns about potential air pollution, water contamination, and human health impacts.
The Ontario Divisional Court decided to hear the case after determining “the allegation that the tribunal erred in applying the test for leave is a matter of significant importance in this and other cases.” The Court ruled in favour of Waterkeeper & Gord Downie and Loyalist Environmental Coalition on every issue. Its precedent-setting decision confirms the public’s right to participate fully in environmental decision-making. It requires the Ministry of the Environment to consider the cumulative environmental effects of issuing an approval before doing so and to apply the precautionary principle to such decisions.
“This decision marks the first of many great decisions to come for Ontarians. This is our air and our water, these things belong to us. Every licence to pollute, every environmental impact, must be considered carefully and publicly. These are our environmental rights, rights as important as any others, rights that must be respected,” says Gord Downie, musician and Trustee for Lake Ontario.
“The Court’s judgment is a huge victory for Bath area residents and other groups who now look forward to challenging Lafarge’s waste-burning proposal in public hearings before the Environmental Review Tribunal,” stated Rick Lindgren, counsel for LOW and Gordon Downie. “In addition, the judgment is an important precedent under the Environmental Bill of Rights which will facilitate citizen access to environmental justice in other cases across Ontario.”
“This decision could not come at a better time,” says Mark Mattson, President & Waterkeeper with Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. “The public is being shut out of the decision-making process more and more frequently. Projects are fast-tracked without close scrutiny or concern for local impacts. Maybe now citizens’ voices will be heard.”
“The Court’s approval of the Tribunal’s interpretation of the role of the precautionary principle and ecosystem approach in government decision-making is a key aspect of this decision,” said lawyer Hugh Wilkins of Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund). “This is a great victory.”
Rick Lindgren of the Canadian Environmental Law Association represented Lake Ontario Waterkeeper & Gord Downie. Joseph Castrilli represented The Tragically Hip. Hugh Wilkins and Marlene Cashin of Ecojustice represented Loyalist Environmental Coalition.
The groups will now seek costs. The Environmental Review Tribunal hearing begins on Monday, September 22, 2008.
Ecojustice lawyer Marlene Cashin added,”Finally the citizens of the Bath area will have the hearing they have been waiting for since they were granted Leave to Appeal more than a year ago.”