Media Release

Environmental Group Commences Legal Action Concerning Federal Government's Downloading of Environmental Role to Provinces

Mar 04 1998

Toronto. The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) initiated a court action yesterday in the Federal Court of Canada against federal Environment Minister Christine Stewart concerning her decision to conclude an agreement with the provinces to devolve significant federal environmental protection powers to the provinces. The agreement, formally called the "Canada-Wide Accord on Environmental Harmonization" was signed by all provinces except Quebec and by the territories in St. John's, Newfoundland on January 29, 1998. The lawsuit asks the Federal Court to review the document and determine whether all or parts of it are legal. The major questions are whether the federal environment minister had the legal authority to conclude an agreement of this scope, whether the agreement will unduly constrain her discretion to act to protect the environment and whether she can conclude an agreement that purports to bind other federal ministers. "The Accord is of great significance for the future role, or lack of it, of the federal government in the protection of the nation's environment. This action will test the legal basis and scope of this accord. It raises some very important issues for environmental protection," noted Paul Muldoon, CELA's Executive Director. The Accord also includes three sub-agreements, including inspections, standard-setting and environmental assessment. It is anticipated that up to ten sub-agreements will eventually be concluded. The environmental community has been highly critical of the initiative from its very inception. In September, a Supreme Court of Canada decision also noted that the environment is "fundamental value of Canadians" and expanded the constitutional jurisdiction of the federal government to protect the environment. Last fall, the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development held public hearings on the Accord. The committee tabled a report in December of 1997 recommending to the Minister of the Environment to defer concluding the agreement owing to a significant number of concerns.In January, 1998, over sixty of Canada's major environmental organizations signed a letter to the Prime Minister asking him not to conclude the Accord.- 30 -For more information:Paul Muldoon, Executive Director, Canadian Environmental Law Association, 416-960-2284