A coalition of groups from across Canada represented by Sierra Legal Defence Fund has been granted intervener status as “friends of the court” in a hearing next month in the Prince Edward Island Supreme Court – Appeal Division that will decide if a precedent-setting fisheries case will be given the green light.
In a ruling this week, PEI Court of Appeal Justice John A. McQuaid permitted the public interest groups Earth Action of PEI, Ecology Action Centre of Nova Scotia and Living Oceans of British Columbia, to make submissions to the Court hearing the appeal on the public trust and fiduciary obligations of the Government of Canada and the fair and effective administration of the fisheries by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
“Our clients are very pleased to be given this opportunity to have a voice on the public trust issue,” says Sierra Legal counsel Robert Wright. “They are not becoming parties to the lawsuit but will be involved at this hearing to give the court their public interest perspective based on many years of experience in fisheries management, conservation and working with fishing communities.”
The provincial government launched the lawsuit in 2005 challenging the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ historical management decisions with regards to the fishery. The federal government has not yet delivered its defence.
In an earlier hearing, the federal government was unsuccessful in convincing the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island to dismiss the case at a preliminary stage. On the appeal of Justice Gordon L. Campbell’s decision, the federal government is asking the PEI court to decide if the province can even bring a law suit alleging that the federal government failed to manage the fishery fairly and in good faith, for the equal benefit of all, and whether the court of the province has jurisdiction to hear the case.
The appeal will be heard in Charlottetown on June 13 and 14, 2006.
“In our view, this case is an example of one of the greatest breaches of public trust in Canadian history,” says Mark Butler, Marine Coordinator, Ecology Action Centre. “Trust needs to be restored, but it won’t be until government Fisheries Managers put the public interest first – not that of powerful players in the industry.”
“The issue has national importance because the federal Fisheries Act applies across the country,” says Dorthea Hangaard of BC’s Living Oceans Society.