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Federal Court finds Canadian government failed to protect species at risk
March 27, 2014
The lawsuit is meant to shine a light on the need for implementing the federal Species at Risk Act in a more transparent and accountable manner as a step to getting boreal woodland caribou, and all species in Canada, the protection they require.
The Federal Court also noted that considering species protection in the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline hearings was not the same as legal protection under the Species At Risk Act and that the government’s statutory duties to prevent the destruction of “critical habitat” are not generally triggered until such habitat has been identified in a recovery strategy or action plan for the species.
Significantly, the Court also accepted that “as one of the Ministers’ own affiants has observed, a recovery strategy should be science-based, not consensus-based” in rejecting the government’s contention that stakeholder consultations justified the delays.
The Federal Court has long recognized in a series of decisions enforcing the Act that it is not acceptable for the federal government to continue to delay finalizing recovery strategies under the Species at Risk Act, and in doing so delay habitat protection for at‑risk species.
In trying to address a practical way to force the federal government to comply with its legal obligations under the Act, the Court has crafted some innovative solutions in this case and other similar cases. In this case, the environmental groups obtained an order declaring the delays unlawful and the government has a short time to comply. If it doesn’t, the parties can come back and make submissions about it.
The case is good news for species at risk. It means that it will be increasingly difficult for the federal government to continue to ignore its obligations for the 167 species it has failed to protect.