The core of our work at Ecojustice is to ensure that governments and industry adhere to laws and regulations that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, prevent Canadians from being exposed to toxic pollution and protect species in danger and biodiversity.
Through our public interest litigation and advocacy for stronger environmental laws and policies, we defend nature, fight climate change, and fight for a healthier environment.
But how to ensure that the law is applied?
Governments, whether federal, provincial or municipal, develop laws and policies that affect the environment. These include laws that require governments to meet emissions targets, determine the type of chemicals we are exposed to in our daily lives, and protect endangered species. These laws in turn prohibit industry and others from harming the environment, whether by releasing pollutants into the air or destroying fish habitat.
But sometimes governments don’t follow their own laws when making decisions about our environment, and sometimes they don’t challenge industry when their actions violate environmental rules and regulations.
This is where Ecojustice comes in. Our mission is to force government and industry to follow the law, and when they don’t, we take them to court. We use the power of the law, including judicial reviews and private prosecutions, to ensure that when governments fail to follow their own law and industry tries to circumvent the laws, we are prepared to step in.
Why do we need enforceable environmental laws?
Strong environmental laws are important to hold those in power, whether ministers or industry leaders, accountable for not endangering us and our environment.
Although indigenous peoples practiced large-scale agriculture and land and range management, their methods were often synergistic with the natural environment. Indigenous laws helped shape an ecosystem that supported all forms of life. Settlers brought a materialistic view of nature, seeing it as a commodity to be exploited for material gain, and removed Indigenous governance systems and legal orders that had managed lands and resources for millennia. As a result, species, habitats, human health and, increasingly, the stability of the natural systems on which all life depends have been put at risk.
By the end of World War II, industrial exploitation of the natural environment had taken its toll and there was growing public concern about the impact this was having on the world around us. It was clear that enforceable laws were needed to thwart this destruction.
Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, communities across Canada began to organize to better protect our natural world. These groups forced governments to respond, and in a single decade, federal and provincial governments established ministries or departments of the environment, laws to protect the environment, and environmental assessment laws.
How does Ecojustice help enforce the law?
Ecojustice uses the power of the law to defend nature, fight climate change and fight for a healthier environment. We go to court to make sure governments across Canada obey the law and to hold industry to account when they break those rules.
This has brought our lawyers before some of the highest courts in Canada to defend and protect the environment.
Carbon pricing – ensuring national minimum standards can be enforced
The climate emergency demands collective action by all governments in Canada and enforceable laws that can begin to reduce emissions.
Ecojustice has helped ensure that federal environmental law can be enforced where provinces have failed to participate in the collective effort to reduce emissions by putting a price on carbon.
In 2018, the federal government introduced the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act as a safety net for provinces that fail to implement their own comparable carbon pricing strategy. The governments of Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan have launched separate constitutional challenges to the law, claiming it is an encroachment of federal powers on provincial affairs.
Ecojustice lawyers have intervened in these cases, representing the David Suzuki Foundation and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. In court, we have argued that carbon pricing is necessary to address the climate emergency and should be applied to provinces that fail to act.
These three cases went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled in March 2021 that federal carbon pricing is constitutionally sound and essential in addressing the climate crisis.
This means that where provinces do not put an adequate price on carbon, federal law can be enforced. Ultimately, Ecojustice’s intervention in this case resulted in every province and territory in Canada having to put a price on carbon, which will reduce C02 emissions and thus help avoid the worst effects. of the climate crisis.
De Beers Private Prosecution – law enforcement against industry
When the government fails to enforce the law, Ecojustice sometimes relies on private lawsuits to hold industry accountable. More recently, our attorneys won a long-running lawsuit against one of the world’s largest diamond mining companies for failing to provide mercury monitoring data.
De Beers Canada’s Victor Mine, which operated between 2008 and 2019, is nestled in the James Bay Lowlands of the Attawapiskat watershed, part of the largest wetland on the planet.
When the Ontario government gave De Beers the go-ahead to mine rough diamonds, it set out conditions in its approval – one of them being that De Beers must report levels of methylmercury and mercury. total at its downstream monitoring stations.
Methylmercury is a toxin that bioaccumulates in the surrounding watershed and aquatic life and can travel up the food chain to humans. The reporting program was intended to serve as an early warning system in the event of elevated levels of methylmercury downstream of the mine.
Environmental activists found that De Beers failed to release information for five of the nine monitoring stations between 2009 and 2014, in violation of the terms of its permit. When the province failed to hold De Beers accountable for this illegal failure to report, Ecojustice launched a private lawsuit to hold the company accountable for the terms of its permit.
In 2021, after a lengthy legal battle, De Beers pleaded guilty to one count of failing to report mercury monitoring data from the Victor Mine. Under the terms of the resolution, De Beers was forced to post all past and future annual mercury monitoring reports on its website. Additionally, the company agreed to pay a symbolic fine and donate $50,000 to charity.
Is environmental law perfect?
It’s no secret that environmental enforcement in Canada is far from perfect. When profits come before the future of the planet, the health of people or the protection of biodiversity, groups like Ecojustice step in and hold leaders to account.
Our scientific knowledge is constantly evolving and we are discovering new ways to ensure that we have a safe and secure world to pass on to future generations. But often the laws meant to protect our environment are disconnected. That’s why Ecojustice is pushing for strong environmental laws that will benefit everyone.
When government and industry break the law, we are more than ready to go to court to ensure our laws are enforced. Over the next few months, our lawyers will be in court to ensure that the financial penalties imposed on Imperial for releasing excessive amounts of sulfur dioxide are upheld. We are also fighting for an immediate ban on pesticides that are harmful to humans and other life forms.
In a time of climate chaos, environmental pollution and biodiversity loss, the world needs good lawyers!