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UPDATED: Ecojustice delivers a big win for the killer whales

Posted by bparsons at Apr 10, 2012 12:00 AM |
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At Ecojustice, we’re steeped in the compelling and desperate plight of killer whales. The tale of the huge decline in their coastal family is one that would have anyone coming to their defence. With your help, we did.

UPDATE 04/10/2012: The federal government will not appeal the Court's ruling, which means our victory for the killer whales and Canada's other at-risk marine species stands!

By Devon Page
Executive Director of Ecojustice

Our huge win in the Federal Court of Appeal has me wishing I could talk to whales.  At Ecojustice, we’re steeped in the compelling and desperate plight of killer whales, whose daily life is a struggle – not enough food, constant boat traffic that interferes with their hunting and social communication, swimming in an ocean that is in places a toxic soup. The tale of the huge decline in their coastal family is one that would have anyone coming to their defence.  With your help, we did.

Yesterday, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld a hard-fought 2010 legal victory that guaranteed the protection of killer whale habitat by law. The Court of Appeal’s judgment decisively rebutted the federal government’s position that the status quo for killer whales was good enough. And it affirmed our position that the federal government has a legal responsibility to protect their habitat, in order to save these magnificent mammals.

The appeal court’s ruling was an uncommonly strong judgment for what had become an uncharacteristically pitched battle. Formerly as a species-at-risk lawyer and more recently as executive director, I watched this case emerge in 2006 when we worked to thwart bureaucratic interference in recovery planning for killer whales. 

More recently, we watched the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans obstruct our every attempt to find a solution both inside and outside the courts. So excessive was the Minister’s behavior that the federal court  that issued the original ruling took the exceptional step of awarding us solicitor-client costs because, in the words of the court, the Minister’s conduct was “worthy of rebuke.”

Now, the Court of Appeal has clearly and compellingly affirmed the lower court, spelling out in refreshingly clear language that the Species at Risk Act (SARA) means what it says: “SARA provides in no uncertain language that the purpose ... is to ensure that all the critical habitat is protected.”

So, I wish I could tell the whales what this means.  I want to tell them that their habitat is now protected by law. That the government must manage salmon fisheries sustainably so that orcas have enough to eat. That the government must manage boat traffic so that these matrilineal families have the peace and quiet they need to eat, play, bear and raise children, and find their way in an increasingly crowded ocean. That the government must take meaningful steps to reduce poisonous flows into our coastal seas that have turned the flesh of orcas into living toxic waste.

Clear and decisive, our victory on behalf of nine stalwart members of the environmental community (David Suzuki Foundation, Dogwood Initiative, Environmental Defence, Greenpeace, Georgia Strait Alliance, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Raincoast Conservation, Sierra Club of BC and the Wilderness Committee) draws a legal line in the sand. Hopefully, it’s a line that the government won’t cross again, choosing instead to abide by the court’s ruling and the law to protect killer whales, their food and their ocean home.  If the government does choose to cross the line, we’ve been granted a powerful legal tool and we’re prepared to use it.

So that even if we can’t tell killer whales what this decision means, they’ll know anyway.


Posted by Anonymous User at May 22, 2012 03:04 PM
Wonderful victory for our Northern and Southern Resident Orcas.

The question is, how do enforce the ruling? How, for instance, do you stop your oil-moneyed prime minister from shipping tar sands through the narrow channels of the Salish Sea, thus placing the orcas at great peril from a spill?

Good Work!

Posted by David Blackburn at May 22, 2012 03:04 PM
One small step for the environment, one giant leap for SARA.
Thank you to all those who allowed this to happen, thank you!

David Blackburn

whales dolphins and sonar for oil & gas explorations

Posted by Madeleine Varner at May 22, 2012 03:04 PM
A few days ago, I saw, posted on an event that had happened on March 30th
where 100th of dolphins, off the coast of Peru, were washing off dead, unto the beaches, same as what is going on in the gulf, and attributed to the use of sonar booms, used by a ship from a global exploration co. for oil and gas,[…]is_id=BH-20120330-34709-PER

this is one of the links, unfortunately I am unable to go back to the other full article which was on
but it stated that a dolphin biologist blamed the death on the sonar, but that the company doing it along the gulf coast was still claiming that it did nothing wrong.
To say that we do not know what causes those dolphins deaths, the beaching, happening wherever certain sonars are used, near dolphins and whales, is a blatant lie, it has been well documented that they use their own sonar to orient,travel, and locate prey and feed, and that certain human gadgets and activities using sonar, totally incapacitates them, and often kills them.14 year ago, when I was in Hawaii, which as you know is a sort of birthing place for many marine mammals, the humpback whales, in particular, the Navy, which has a base in Honolulu, were apparently doing tests with sonar, and a calf died, and the knowledge was common enough, that there was a public outcry, and the tests were stopped. Yet here we are, 14 years later, and oil and gas explorations are still using that same thechnology, all over the world, killing marine life by the thousands, where is the justice and the world's support?How come there is no world council to protect them?That technology must be outlawed in the oceans, if we are to have some dolphins and whales and whatever else has an echo chamber in their head left alive in our oceans.
Please forward this to whom you think may help


Posted by Laura at May 22, 2012 03:04 PM
I was excited to read about this *cheer* But I'm wondering the Enbridge Gateway Pipeline project that is being protested (but yet still going through) from Alberta to the BC coast--how will this affect the killer whales and other coastal marine life if it's approved. All I'm picturing is the damage, the ships transporting oil from the coast to Asia--potential spills that will travel down....And the affects from that...

Killer Whale Victory for Ecojustice

Posted by Linda Shaw at May 22, 2012 03:04 PM
What a wonderful win, congratulations to you all for your diligence of upholding the safe habitat for the killer whales and other marine species...Way to go...

re: ruling

Posted by greta mckenzie at May 22, 2012 03:04 PM
Thank you for your hard work and dedication... this is fabulous news indeed... Well Done...

Killer court

Posted by Wayne P McMahon at May 22, 2012 03:04 PM
Does this in any way affect the northern pipeline?


Posted by Sheldon Bilsker at May 22, 2012 03:04 PM
Wow! That is fantastic news. Great work! Even with Harper we can still have victories.


Posted by JOliverRHN at May 22, 2012 03:04 PM
Thank-you, this news made me smile. I've been living near English Bay since 2006 and in the last four years a Grey Whale and Orcas have been here to say hello, maybe they can feel the difference, you made some space for them.
I was reading the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms yesterday so I when I read your article my first thought was how it is our Right as Canadians to live in a biodiverse enviornment and a judgement any other way would be against the Charters we Live with. No way a judge could make an order contrary to these acts is there?

 R.S.Q., chapter C-12
Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms
46.1. Every person has a right to live in a healthful environment in which biodiversity is preserved, to the extent and according to the standards provided by law.
2006, c. 3, s. 19.


Great work, Ecojustice

Posted by Jennifer Krill at May 22, 2012 03:04 PM
I think the orcas are hearing you, Devon. Great work!
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