Big Win for Species at Risk
Sierra Club BC is celebrating this week after winning in court against the federal government over its failure to protect endangered species. A federal court judge has ruled that the Minister of Environment and Minister of Fisheries and Oceans broke the law by delaying the production of recovery strategies for four at-risk species as mandated by the Species at Risk Act.
Read our press release.
“This is a big win for species at risk,” says Sierra Club BC campaigns director Caitlyn Vernon. “The court has agreed that the federal government has been acting unlawfully. We are very pleased with this ruling, while disappointed that we needed to take the government to court to follow their own laws.”
The lawsuit challenged the federal government’s multi-year delays in producing recovery strategies for the Pacific Humpback Whale, Nechako White Sturgeon, Marbled Murrelet and Southern Mountain Caribou. Ecojustice lawyers, acting on behalf of Sierra Club BC, David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace Canada, Wilderness Committee and Wildsight, argued that the federal government’s chronic delays have forced species already struggling to survive to wait even longer for the protection they desperately need.
Despite the government’s legal obligation to protect these species, by delaying the recovery strategies — and therefore delaying identification of the critical habitat it must then protect — the federal government makes it easier for projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline to pass regulatory review without a full understanding of their long-term impacts on these wildlife species and their habitat.
For instance, the federal government released its final recovery strategy for the Pacific Humpback Whale in October, more than four and a half years past its due date and too late for consideration by the Enbridge the Joint Review Panel.
Justice Anne L. Mactavish wrote in her 47-page ruling:
It is, moreover, apparent that the delay encountered in these four cases are just the tip of the iceberg. This is clearly an enormous systemic problems within the relevant Ministries, given the respondents' acknowledgement that there remain some 167 species at risk for which recovery strategies have not yet been developed.
She later wrote:
To state the obvious, the Species at Risk Act was enacted because some wildlife species in Canada are at risk. As the applicants note, many are in a race against the clock as increased pressure is put on their critical habitat, and their ultimate survival may be at stake ….The timelines contained in the Act reflect the clearly articulated will of Parliament that recovery strategies be developed for species at risk in a timely fashion, recognizing that there is indeed urgency in these matters. [Reasons for Order and Order]
In response to the lawsuit, the federal government has issued proposed recovery strategies for the white sturgeon, murrelet and caribou in recent months. The court will oversee that process to ensure the final recovery strategies are produced in a timely fashion.
"The message in this decision is clear, not just for the four species at issue in this lawsuit, but for the more than 160 at-risk species in Canada that still await recovery strategies," says Vernon. " The federal government must heed its own laws and act to protect at-risk species before it is too late."
Read Canadian Press article.