We’ve teamed up with Animal Justice to take Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to court over inaction on species protection.

From mammals to fish, birds and plants, approximately 40 species at risk have been left in the lurch because the Minister has unlawfully delayed issuing their recovery strategies.

The Ontario Endangered Species Act (ESA) is arguably the most progressive endangered species law in North America, but it is not being implemented effectively.

In its preamble, the ESA recognizes the ecological, social, economic, cultural and intrinsic value of biological diversity and calls on the present generation of Ontarians to protect species at risk for future generations. And a primary purpose of the ESA is to protect at-risk species and their habitat, and promote species recovery.

The Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario is the independent committee made up of scientific experts and Indigenous knowledge keepers tasked with assessing the status of species in Ontario and, when necessary, classifying species according to five categories: extinct, extirpated, endangered, threatened, or special concern.

Under section 11 of the Act, the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry is required to issue recovery strategies within one year from the time of listing for endangered species, and within two years for threatened species. An endangered listing means that the species lives in the wild in Ontario but “is facing imminent extinction or extirpation”; a threatened species is “likely to become endangered” if protective actions are not taken.

The ESA’s mandatory deadlines for recovery strategies are tempered by flexibility provisions which allow the government to take extensions under specific circumstances, including a wish to cooperate with another jurisdiction (usually the federal government) on developing its recovery strategy. However, an Ecojustice review revealed that the Minister has exploited ESA’s flexibility provisions by unlawfully delaying recovery strategies.

Why is Ecojustice Involved?

Recovery strategies are paramount to species protection because they help guide government initiatives to ensure that healthy numbers of each species return to Ontario. But as of August 2017, the Minister has unlawfully delayed recovery strategies for 37 species — including the endangered mountain lion and a threatened fish known as the black redhorse, which were both listed prior to the current ESA becoming law in 2008.

In many cases, such as the mountain lion, the Minister has simply, and unlawfully, allowed deadlines to pass by — effectively leaving the vulnerable species with minimal legal protections indefinitely. In other instances, the Minister has taken extensions to cooperate with the federal government — even when the latter has unlawfully violated its own mandated deadlines under the federal Species at Risk Act, or expressly refused to protect a species, as it did with the black redhorse in 2007.

Our legal action is aimed at ensuring the Minister fulfills her duty to prepare recovery strategies and halts further violations of the ESA’s mandated timelines.

What would a win mean?

If successful, this case would require the Ontario government to complete recovery strategies for the 37 listed species left in peril by the Minister’s inaction.

A strength of the ESA is that it lays out clear timelines for developing recovery strategies. We want these timelines met going forward. The Ontario government must protect threatened and endangered species because biological diversity is vital to the wellbeing of people and the planet — and because the law says so.