Public interest groups apply to SCC in effort to overturn damaging precedent and restore precautionary approach to major project reviews
TORONTO – Public interest groups are asking the Supreme Court of Canada to overturn a Federal Court of Appeal ruling that they say sets a damaging precedent for the future of environmental assessment law in Canada.
Earlier this year, the Federal Court of Appeal set an alarming precedent in a ruling allowing regulators to avoid careful consideration of serious environmental and human health impacts associated with a plan to build new nuclear reactors at the Darlington site on Lake Ontario — including the consequences of a major nuclear accident — during the project’s environmental assessment.
“That ruling essentially allows a ‘look before we leap’ approach to be replaced with ‘we’ll figure it out later’,” said Kaitlyn Mitchell, Ecojustice lawyer.
“It’s a ruling that undermines the spirit of environment assessment law in Canada and sets a damaging precedent for future project reviews,” said Rick Lindgren, Canadian Environmental Law Association lawyer.
If allowed to stand, the decision will further constrain the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act’s ability to ensure that most serious environmental and human health impacts associated with major industrial projects are identified and carefully assessed before a project is given the green light to proceed.
Lawyers from Ecojustice and the Canadian Environmental Law Association (“CELA”) are working on behalf of Greenpeace Canada, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, CELA, and Northwatch to seek leave to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision and take this matter to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Should Canada’s highest court hear the appeal, the outcome could have implications for projects already reviewed under CEAA and currently before the courts, including Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline and B.C. Hydro’s Site C mega-dam. It will also impact future environmental assessments carried out under that law.
“If regulators aren’t required to carefully consider the consequences of a large nuclear accident when reviewing a nuclear project, what are they required to consider?” said Shawn-Patrick Stensil, senior energy analyst with Greenpeace Canada.
“Allowing major industrial projects to proceed without giving careful consideration to the biggest threats they pose to human health and the environment runs counter the basic principle of responsible, sustainable development.”