Ecojustice Blog – Nature Posted on June 26, 2015 (updated: July 8, 2015)

Residents fight for accountability in Lake Simcoe wetlands

Ecojustice lawyer Laura BowmanLaura BowmanLawyer
Photo: Jane Denise

My client, South Lake Simcoe Naturalists (SLSN), is a local Ontario Nature club that was formed in 1983 to promote the conservation and protection of the environment with a focus on Lake Simcoe and its watersheds. The volunteer-run club’s membership is made up of residents of Georgina and other communities located on the south bank of Lake Simcoe in southern Ontario.

Approximately 85% of southern Ontario’s wetlands have been drained to make way for suburban sprawl, aggregate extraction and agriculture. The Paradise Beach-Island Grove wetlands, which are managed by the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA), have been designated as “Provincially Significant” by the Ontario Government. These wetlands could fall victim to a similar fate if a proposal by development giant DG Group to build a new housing development in this important ecosystem is approved.

Like my clients, I am concerned about the preservation of water quality and biodiversity in the Great Lakes peninsula. Housing developments and industrial development in or near wetlands could threaten water quality in Lake Simcoe and in other Great Lakes. That’s why we have Conservation Authorities. They are supposed to stop developments that will have negative environmental impacts in or near wetlands.

Unfortunately, Conservation Authority permits are exempt from public notice and comment provisions under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights. That means that Conservation Authority permits are sometimes issued out of public view and without a right for public appeal.

Because of this, my client had no choice but to do freedom of information requests to find out what was going on with the DG Group application for a new development in the wetland.

We were shocked to learn that LSRCA returned all originals of DG Group’s application after telling us that the documents did not exist. Then, when DG Group re-applied for its permit, LSRCA once again falsely told my clients that the records of that second application did not exist. LSRCA now admits that it disposed of the first application and that it has the second application in its possession. However, LSRCA is still refusing to disclose the second application relying on a section of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Privacy Act that is clearly not applicable in this instance.

Wetland destruction permits are already issued out of public view and that is a problem. Now, LSRCA has gone one step further and is failing to comply with basic access to information requirements in handling DG Group’s application.

My clients and I are scandalized by LSRCA’s apparent disregard for transparency, accountability and access to information laws. Never before in my practice have I witnessed the admitted disposal of public records that were known to be subject to a freedom of information request.

That’s why my client has submitted a request to Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner to investigate.

Our friends at North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance are also concerned about the fate of these wetlands and they are currently circulating a petition calling on the LSRCA to ensure, once and for all, that the process for determining the future of the wetlands is open and transparent.

Case Documents: Re: Request AFOB159 – Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (“LSRCA”) Requester: Laura Bowman, Counsel (on behalf of South Lake Simcoe Naturalists)

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