Fight for Public Involvement in Environmental Assessment Heads To Supreme Court: First Time Environmental Group Granted Leave to Appeal to Supreme Court of Canada

(Ottawa/Vancouver) A long battle over the public’s right to be consulted on large mines and other industrial projects is now heading to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court decided today to allow MiningWatch Canada to appeal a decision of the Federal Court of Appeal. The decision is being heralded as a significant milestone for environmentalists, as this is the first time an environmental group has been given leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court has recognized the importance of environmental protection, and specifically the importance of public participation in the environmental assessment process, in deciding to hear this case,” said Jamie Kneen, Communications Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. “Huge projects like this, with significant environmental impacts, are not supposed to proceed without public involvement.”

The case revolves around the contentious Red Chris mine, a proposed open-pit copper and gold mine that poses a serious threat to the headwaters of the Stikine, Nass, and Skeena rivers in northern British Columbia – known to First Nations as the “Sacred Headwaters” region. The project’s proponent, Imperial Metals, proposes to destroy fish-bearing streams by damming them and using these natural waters to dump toxic mine waste.

Under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and its regulations, metal mines processing more than 3,000 tonnes of ore per day must undergo comprehensive assessments, including public participation. The proposed Red Chris mine would process 30,000 tonnes of ore every day. However, the federal departments of Fisheries and Oceans and Natural Resources Canada conducted a simple screening-level assessment – excluding public participation – before approving the project in May 2006.

Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) launched a lawsuit on behalf of MiningWatch in June 2006. The groups asked the Federal Court to overturn the federal government’s screening assessment. In September 2007, the Federal Court sided with the environmentalists, ruling that the federal government had unlawfully evaded a comprehensive review of the Red Chris mine project. But in 2008, Imperial Metals and the federal government successfully appealed that decision to the Federal Court of Appeal.

“The Supreme Court’s willingness to hear our appeal indicates that public consultation on major mines and other industrial projects is a significant issue nationwide,” said Lara Tessaro, staff lawyer with Ecojustice. “I look forward to fighting for the public’s right to participate in environmental assessments.”

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For more information, please contact:

  • Lara Tessaro, Staff Lawyer, Ecojustice, phone (604) 685-5618 x245, cell (604) 313-3132
  • Jamie Kneen, Communications Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada, phone (613) 569-3439, cell (613) 761-2273