Environmental Groups In Court To Defend Federal Environmental Law from Attack by Government of Alberta

MiningWatch Canada – Nature Canada – Environmental Defence Canada

(Unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe Territories [Ottawa, Ontario]) This week, the Government of Alberta is challenging the new federal Impact Assessment Act (IAA) (formerly Bill C-69) in the provincial Court of Appeal.

MiningWatch Canada, Nature Canada, and Environmental Defence Canada - represented by the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) and West Coast Environmental Law - are intervening in the hearings to defend environmental protections. CELA is also representing itself.

“People across Canada deserve a robust impact review process that safeguards the long-term health of our communities while allowing good projects to be built,” says Julia Levin, Climate and Energy Program Manager with Environmental Defence. “This is yet another baseless attack from the Government of Alberta against measures meant to tackle the climate crisis - as were the attacks on carbon pricing, environmental activists and more.”

The IAA, which came into force in 2019, was an attempt to strengthen Canada’s environmental laws and fix the broken project review process, which had been gutted in 2012 by the previous government. While environmental groups have some criticisms of the law, it does make some important improvements. For the first time, Canada’s environmental assessments are legally required to consider a project’s climate impacts.

“Impact assessment is all about looking before you leap,” says Stephen Hazell, Emeritus Counsel with Nature Canada. “Provincial and federal governments share the legal authority to protect the environment and conserve nature. As interveners, we will be making submissions to the court that the IAA sits squarely within federal authority.” 

Before receiving royal assent, Bill C-69 was the target of massive opposition from the oil and gas lobby. Back in May 2019, Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney warned that if the amendments to Bill C-69 suggested by the oil and gas industry were not adopted as a whole, it would result in a constitutional challenge on the grounds that the law intrudes on provincial rights.

Now, Alberta is arguing that the IAA goes beyond the federal government’s constitutional authority.

With some provinces showing less regard for environmental protection and weak assessment frameworks, it is more important than ever to have strong federal laws.

“We depend on the federal government to safeguard our families, our health and the environment from pollution, toxic contamination and other potential harms. The decisions we make today with regards to industrial projects and energy infrastructure will have consequences for generations to come,” says Jamie Kneen, Communications Coordinator with MiningWatch Canada. “Environmental assessment allows us to make informed decisions to make sure that only acceptable projects go forward, and that those projects are the best that they can be.”

The Alberta Court of Appeal’s virtual, live-streamed hearings are scheduled to begin on Monday, February 22 and conclude on Friday, February 26, with appearances by the above interveners scheduled for Thursday, February 25.

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About MiningWatch Canada: MiningWatch Canada is a non-profit organization created to provide a public interest response to the threats to public health, the environment, and community interests posed by irresponsible mineral policies and practices in Canada and around the world. It provides timely information and support to mining-affected communities and related organizations, and works for better mining-related policies.

About Nature Canada: Nature Canada has been a voice for nature for more than 80 years. We are a charitable organization advocating the conservation of land and the protection of waterways, and oceans to help stop the loss of species. We facilitate mobilization among more than 900 nature organizations and 100,000 nature-lovers while helping Canadians connect to nature.

About Environmental Defence Canada: Environmental Defence Canada is a leading Canadian environmental advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.