A legal challenge has been launched against Ontario’s controversial Bill 197 by parties who have jointly filed an application for judicial review. The action requests the Divisional Court to issue declaratory relief and other remedies in relation to the omnibus legislation, which overhauls the Environmental Assessment Act and amends other provincial laws.

The parties launching the action include the following: Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA); Earthroots, a conservation organization; Ontario Nature, a charitable organization with more than 30,000 members; Cooper Price, a 16-year old activist with Fridays For Future Toronto/Climate Strike Canada; and, Michel Koostachin of the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario.

Bill 197, the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020, which received assent on July 21, 2020, is an Act to amend various statutes in response to COVID-19 and to enact, amend and repeal various statutes.

The legal application alleges that Bill 197 was enacted in a manner that failed to comply with the public notice/comment requirements of Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR). Moreover, the legal action claims it is inconsistent with international law conventions, principles of environmental assessment, public participation and human rights applicable in Ontario.

“Bill 197 holds true to an insidious pattern of environmental deregulation that reflects neither the values nor the long-term interests of Ontarians who understand the importance of a healthy environment,” says Caroline Schultz, executive director of Ontario Nature.

Gord Miller, chair of Earthroots adds, “As Environmental Commissioner of Ontario for 15 years, I constantly had to work to protect and maintain the EBR rights of the people to participate in government decision making about our environmental heritage. Bill 197 has gutted those rights and set public policy back decades. We must react. We must defend those rights for the sake of future generations.”

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Represented by Joseph Castrilli, Richard Lindgren and David Estrin of CELA, the applicants are seeking a declaration by the Court that the Government of Ontario violated provincial and international law in enacting Bill 197, and an order from the Court directing the Government of Ontario to conduct meaningful public consultation on the environmentally significant aspects of Bill 197 before they are proclaimed into force.

“It is critically important that we have robust environmental assessment and planning laws that allow for strong public participation, and that protect health and the environment for generations to come, especially for those who don’t have a ‘seat at the table’ where many decisions are made,” stated Theresa McClenaghan, executive director and counsel with CELA.

For further information on this legal action, click here.

Featured image: Queen’s Park.

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