Posted on November 28, 2012 (updated: November 28, 2012)

Lawyers, professors across Canada call on PM to remove environmental changes from budget bill

Lawyers and law professors from across Canada are calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Members of Parliament to remove proposed changes to environmental laws from the omnibus budget bill and debate them separately in Parliament.

“Including these changes in the budget bill is an underhanded way to circumvent Parliamentary and public debate,” said Patrick Canning, a B.C.-based lawyer who coordinated the letter. “The public and their democratically elected representatives deserve a chance to discuss major changes to laws that are totally unrelated to the budget and will impact the well-being of all Canadians.”

The letter, signed by 124 lawyers and law professors, was released during a press event in Ottawa today
on the eve of Parliament’s final vote on Bill C-38. A public letter by lawyers regarding a bill in Parliament is a rare event in Canada, and reflects the level of concern felt at all levels of Canadian society about the dismantling of Canada’s environmental laws.

Pointing to several significant amendments being proposed in the bill – including changes to the Fisheries Act and the replacement of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act with a weaker version – the letter insists that changes of this magnitude need more careful consideration by decision-makers and those who will be affected.

“Many lakes, rivers and streams that provide habitat to fish would be at greater risk of destruction because of changes to the Fisheries Act proposed in Bill C-38,” said Will Amos, director of the Ecojustice Law Clinic at the University of Ottawa. “This is why people from across the country – now including lawyers and law professors – are calling on the federal government to reconsider its approach.”

The letter openly challenges the federal government’s rationale for rolling back Canada’s environmental laws, highlighting the fact that Canada is already favored by business internationally on account of its lax environmental rules.

“Prime Minister Harper acknowledged in 2006 that Canada’s environmental performance is, by most measures, the worst in the developed world,” said Stephen Hazell, a University of Ottawa law professor who regularly appears before Parliamentary committees that review environmental legislation. “Enacting this budget bill would worsen Canada’s environmental record for the short-term gain of select industries.”

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