Judge slams federal Environment Minister for failure to protect at-risk caribou herds
VANCOUVER, BC, Coast Salish Territories – Lawyers and local environmental advocates are celebrating a victory in the Federal Court of Canada on behalf of endangered caribou herds in British Columbia.
The court’s decision follows a judicial review launched by the Wells Gray Gateway Protection Society (WGGPS) after federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna failed to respond to their application for an “emergency order” to protect at-risk caribou under the Species at Risk Act.
In a judgement released last Thursday, Mr. Justice Phelan scolded the Minister of Environment and Climate Change for taking over a year to form an opinion on whether the Southern Mountain Caribou face an imminent threat to their survival, describing the Minister’s lack of action to date as “egregious.”
“When we first applied for an emergency order, we anticipated a response from Minister McKenna within 45 days. We became quite disillusioned as a year dragged by and we were repeatedly told by the Minister's office that our request was ‘under active consideration’,” said Roland Neave of the Wells Gray Gateway Protection Society.
“Such fence-sitting is unconscionable when trying to protect a small herd of endangered caribou. We were delighted by Judge Phelan's decision and his scathing comments about the Minister's long delay in reaching a decision,” Neave said.
Under Section 80 of the Species at Risk Act, the Minister is obligated to make a recommendation to establish an emergency order to protect a wildlife species “if he or she is of the opinion that the species faces imminent threats to its survival or recovery.” On May 4th, just days before WGGPS’ case was due to be heard in court and over a year after the original request, the Minister released her opinion that the caribou in question were indeed facing imminent threats to their recovery.
"The Minister's refusal to respond meaningfully to the request for an emergency order was unnecessarily disrespectful to the very people who would be the most supportive of strong federal action to protect the caribou,” said William Andrews, who acted as counsel for WGGPS in the case.
The Wells Gray Gateway Protection Society did extensive fundraising to support this action under the Species at Risk Act and raised about $33,000 from Upper Clearwater residents and other concerned people. The legal action was also supported by West Coast Environmental Law’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund.
In the strongly-worded judgement, Justice Phelan states that “the Court is concerned that citizens should not have to resort to mandamus relief to cause the Minister to do what the legislation clearly requires the Minister to do unless there is good reason.”
“It’s outrageous that the Wells Gray Gateway Protection Society had to go through such a lengthy, onerous process to get the Minister to act,” said Erica Stahl, Staff Lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law. “It shouldn’t be up to local residents and community groups to enforce the laws that are meant to protect critically threatened species – and we are glad to see that the Court has agreed in this powerful judgement.”
For more information, please contact:
Roland Neave | Wells Gray Gateway Protection Society
250-374-0831 ext. 104, firstname.lastname@example.org
Erica Stahl | Staff Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law
604-684-7378 ext. 229, email@example.com
William Andrews | Barrister & Solicitor