If you have ever spent any significant amount of time on the west coast, you know how important and contentious of an issue salmon fishery is. Salmon fishery is part of the culture of many First Nations and coastal communities. It is a considerable industry, both in terms of commercial fisheries and aquaculture. Its future is uncertain as stocks seem to fluctuate beyond the comprehension of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). There is no shortage of causes (diseases, pollution, poor management, climate change, etc), but as the Cohen Commission of Inquiry (Cohen) concluded, none is dominant. Among them is the risk caused by diseases brought in the salmons’ ecosystem through aquaculture. This particular risk is plague by a familiar environmental policy issue: scientific uncertainty. However, as Cohen found, this uncertainty does not in fact diminishes the risks. Last week, the Federal Court rendered a decision specifically on this issue in Morton v Canada (Fisheries and Oceans), a decision that provide some much needed follow up on Cohen’s aquaculture conclusions. In part one of this two parts post I’ll look at the question of judicial review of a strongly circumscribed ministerial discretion, and the use of the precautionary principle in reasonableness review. In the second part I’ll look at the question of sub-delegation of regulatory requirements to industries.
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.