It turns out no news can be good news. That was the case earlier this week as Ecojustice staff and our clients waited for the clock to tick down on the deadline for the federal Department of Fisheries and Ocean (DFO) to appeal the precedent-setting ruling we won for the killer whales — and all endangered and threatened aquatic species — in February.
When Tuesday came and went without any legal papers arriving at our office, it sealed the victory. The Federal Court of Appeal’s ruling says in no uncertain terms that the federal government must legally protect all elements of the critical habitat British Columbia’s killer whales need to recover and survive.
Killer whales eat Chinook salmon as their main food source, which means DFO has to find a way to protect availability of these fish stocks.
Killer whales also need clean waters, which means the government has to protect our oceans and stop polluters from poisoning it.
Finally, killer whales need quiet oceans so they can hunt and communicate with each other, which means the government must take steps to monitor and reduce acoustic disturbance in the water — something that is uncontrolled right now. This could include monitoring and controlling boat traffic — including oil tankers — in the Strait of Georgia and Strait of Juan de Fuca and Johnstone Strait.
These are no small tasks. While DFO’s plan for tackling these issues is not yet clear, we expect to see some movement towards concrete recovery measures soon — because now the law compels it. And Ottawa seems to have taken notice. In the 2012 budget, the federal government announced it will spend $50 million over two years to implement the Species at Risk Act.
This court victory has implications beyond the whales too.
The ruling means that the critical habitat of all of Canada’s threatened and endangered aquatic species, like the St. Lawrence River belugas, must now be protected by Canadian law. That is a whole lot of lakes, rivers, streams and oceans.
That’s why this ruling is such a home run. It helps the whales, but it also protects many other species and the places where they live. These streams, lakes, rivers and oceans are vital to the health of Canada’s ecosystems and link them from coast to coast to coast. This is important because thriving ecosystems are critical to the clean air, fresh water and healthy communities all Canadians need to survive.
As for what happens next, Ecojustice continues to work with our all-star clients (David Suzuki Foundation, Dogwood Initiative, Environmental Defence, Greenpeace, Georgia Strait Alliance, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Raincoast Conservation, Sierra Club of BC and the Wilderness Committee) as they work with DFO to implement protections for the killer whales.
And if the government fails to heed the court’s ruling, Ecojustice will be there to enforce it ourselves.
Thank you for your kind words, your generosity and your commitment to this particular piece of work — without you, we wouldn’t have been able to knock this one out of the park. But the battle to protect the whales is far from over, and the war to protect all of Canada’s threatened and endangered species is just beginning.
We set a precedent with this win, which means the road ahead is brand-new territory. But we’re up for the challenge, and with your continued support, we know we’re on the way to making even bigger waves.
By Margot Venton and Lara Tessaro, staff lawyers