TORONTO — Ontario’s Divisional Court has upheld a provincial regulation that exempts major industries from the Endangered Species Act and allows them to kill species at risk and destroy their habitat.
“This is a disappointing decision for Ontario’s endangered and threatened wildlife,” said Ecojustice lawyer Lara Tessaro. “The Endangered Species Act is intended to put species first — not to let their survival be balanced against competing industrial interests. That would tip the scale towards extinction.”
When it was introduced in 2007, the Endangered Species Act was considered the gold standard law for species protection in North America. Unfortunately, recent years have seen Ontario shirk its duties to protect at-risk wildlife.
In 2013, the province introduced a regulation that exempts major industries from strict protection standards under the Endangered Species Act — in many cases giving them a free pass to kill endangered or threatened species and destroy their habitat, as long as this harm is “minimized.” To challenge this regulation, Ontario Nature and Wildlands League, represented by Ecojustice lawyers, brought a lawsuit that culminated in a hearing earlier this year.
“There are too many plants and animals that are teetering on the edge in this province,” said Anna Baggio of Wildlands League. “We will continue to speak up for them until their habitat is protected and until they are no longer at risk of extinction.”
Some of Ontario’s 155 at-risk species threatened by the regulation include the American Eel, Blanding’s Turtle, Lakeside Daisy, Jefferson Salamander, Eastern Meadowlark, and the iconic Woodland Caribou.
“In the past 40 years, the earth has lost over half of its wildlife,” said Caroline Schultz. “Today’s ruling certainly won’t help the situation. The prospects for Ontario’s most vulnerable plants and animals just got a whole lot bleaker.”
The groups are reviewing the decision and considering their options.