Ontario’s at-risk species need protection from harm.

That’s why I’m representing Ontario Nature and Wildlands League in their lawsuit to defend Ontario’s Endangered Species Act and the plants, birds and animals it protects. My clients want the provincial government to fulfill its promise to use a strong, science-based approach to species protection.

Instead Ontario created a regulation that allows major industries such as forestry, mining and oil and gas pipelines to avoid strict standards intended to protect at-risk plants and animals and their habitats. The regulation largely came into effect in July 2013. My clients launched the lawsuit that September because they believe the government’s actions are unlawful and undermine the purpose of the Endangered Species Act.

A panel of judges will hear the case over 1.5 days between Jan. 14-15 in an Osgoode Hall courtroom in downtown Toronto. A decision could happen at the end of the hearing or sometime afterwards.

This summer we received the government’s written arguments. We now know that they want to prevent the court from hearing about its actions to weaken species at risk protections. Disturbingly, the facts the Ontario government wants to strip from the court record are already well known to many Ontarians.

A list of evidence the government wants to prevent the court from considering:

  • That Ontario tried and failed to weaken the Endangered Species Act in its 2012 budget bill (Bill 55). Using the budget bill shielded the proposed amendments to the law from public scrutiny. However, while the budget legislation overall passed, the government was forced to withdraw those sections from the bill after parliamentarians from all parties voted against those amendments (Read The Toronto Star opinion piece, “Anti-environment measures tucked into Liberal budget bill”).
  • That more than 10,000 Ontarians commented on the proposal for the new regulation, many of whom expressed concern and opposition (Read some of the comments at Ontario’s Environmental Registry). Dozens of environmental organizations opposed the regulatory proposals, including in letters to the Ministry of Natural Resources, Premier Wynne and the cabinet.
  • That Gord Miller, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, criticized the regulation for undermining species protection in a 2013 report. The report was called “Laying Siege to the Last Line of Defence: A Review of Ontario Weakened Protections for Species at Risk.” In it, the commissioner found that the Ministry of Natural Resources “has been stalling recovery strategies, delaying habitat protection, mismanaging the permitting process, and deliberately ignoring public participation.”
  • That after the Ontario government failed to amend the Endangered Species Act in 2012, it said it would re-introduce these amendments in the legislature – allowing the public and parliamentarians to scrutinize and debate their merits – but never did so.

Why is this case so important?

In September 2014, there were 155 species — including the Blanding’s Turtle, American Eel and Acadian Flycatcher, pictured — listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

When properly enforced, the law prevents industrial development, resource extraction and other activities from “harming, harassing or killing” these vulnerable species or destroying their habitat.

Exempting forestry, oil and gas pipelines, and mining companies from this law benefits industry at the expense of at-risk species. This regulation lets companies destroy without stringent oversight. Like our clients, we believe that would set a dangerous precedent.

And so would preventing the court from hearing about Ontario’s actions to weaken species at risk protections. If you share our view that Ontario’s at-risk species must be defended, help us spread the word about this case.

Acadian Flycatcher via ©Shutterstock (Bonnie Taylor Barry)