Environmental litigation often brings in the popular imagination a battle between some big polluting corporations and marginalised people abandoned by the state (the movie Erin Brockovich comes to mind). Those cases do exist, but the majority of environmental law is operationalized by government agencies balancing competing interests, usually economic development with environmental protection. This often results in a compromise: allowing a polluting activity, but with some mitigation measure to limit the environmental effects. But what happens when the two competing interests in front of the executive are environmental protection? This is what the Environmental Review Tribunal of Ontario (ERT) had to deal with in the case Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County v Director, Ministry of the Environment, ultimately largely upheld by the Court of Appeal. This case presents the interesting issue of balancing the need for renewable energy and the impacts such a project can have on the environment, such as the endangered Blanding’s turtle.
This past year brought a lot of change and sometime stagnation in environmental law. For someone who tries to wear the mantle of environmental law scholar I should have been stimulated or at least productive in my writing and my comments. And I must say I have been in a way through my more “official academic” writing. However my public silence except for the occasional twitter comment has a reason beside my overcharged schedule. I haven’t participated to the public debate mainly because I have nothing good to add and my mental health requires it. I try to stay optimistic as much as possible about our future, but one cannot ignore the facts: the dire situation we are in and our stagnation. There is little I can do or say that will change the will of the public, the government or the international community. Therefore, out of self-preservation, I stay silent in order not to plunge into pessimism and depressive thoughts. But I am a stubborn academic and I am opinionated; in the end expressing my anger and dissatisfaction is probably more constructive, if only for myself.
It has been a while since I wanted to write this post. As work and graduate applications kept my mind away from this blog, the situation that inspired this post evolved, evolved further, ended and restarted. In the end, I’m glad I waited as the developments made this topic much more interesting. That topic is the involvement of Canada in the Durban Conference negotiations and its Canadian climax: the repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol.
After what can be considered many failed attempts to agree on the next step to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (basically the replacement of Kyoto after its end), the State Parties to the UNFCCC met in Durban, South Africa, at the 17th conference of the parties (COP17), hoping that some agreement could be reached over the pressing issue of climate change. The Copenhagen Conference resulted in what many considered a sad failure. However, it seemed that the international community had matured sufficiently to reach something concrete in Durban. Sadly, that statement does not apply to Canada, who seems to have regressed in it international maturity level since 2006.
On 30 September 2011 the Supreme Court of Canada released the Insite decision. This case began when the Government of Canada made it clear that it wouldn’t renew Insite’s – a supervised drug injection clinic in the Down Town Eastside of Vancouver – exemption from the application of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (the CDSA). Insite and its many supporters decided to challenge the constitutionality of the CDSA applicability to Insite and of the refusal of the Minister of Health to grant the exemption. A few weeks ago, the judicial battle ended with a victory for society, and for Insite and its patients.
I am happy for the people who are involved with Insite; it is a great victory for them and probably a great relief as they won’t have this Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads anymore. It was, however, a predictable victory. The Supreme Court of British Columbia and the British Columbia Court of Appeal had already found that the applicability of the CDSA to Insite violated section 7 of the Charter (right to liberty, life and personal security of the person). The facts of this case were overwhelmingly in favour of Insite. The project had the support of the community, the business close to Down Town East Side, the public health authorities, the City ofVancouver and theProvince ofBritish Columbia. The federal government, to no surprise, only had demagogical arguments. It was thus a predictable victory as I couldn’t conceive how the Supreme Court, in anyway shape or form, could agree with the federal government. The CDSA was not found inapplicable but the refusal of the Minister of Health was found to violate section 7 and the Court ordered the government to exempt Insite and to give an exemption to any safe injection site that would meet certain criteria.