For Immediate Release
Legal Victory for Endangered Species Across Canada
Court ruling means Department of Fisheries and Oceans must overhaul recovery plans
VANCOUVER, British Columbia - A precedent-setting legal victory for endangered species may put an
end to years of unlawful action by the Government of Canada. In a September 9
ruling, the Federal Court admonished the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)
for failing to identify the habitat of the Nooksack dace, an endangered fish
restricted to only four streams in B.C.'s Lower Mainland. The ruling will ensure
greater protection of species-at-risk and their habitats across Canada: from the
smallest minnow to BC's massive humpback
In his judgment, Justice Campbell said the lawsuit, brought by
Ecojustice lawyers on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental
Defence, Georgia Strait Alliance and the Wilderness Committee, was "absolutely
necessary." He described the case as "a story about the creation and application
of policy by the Minister in clear contravention of the law, and a reluctance to
be held accountable for failure to follow the law."
That law, the Species at Risk Act, requires the federal government to
identify the critical habitat of endangered and threatened species. The
environmental groups' lawsuit was filed in 2007 after the DFO unlawfully deleted
habitat maps from the Nooksack dace recovery strategy.
"We are ecstatic about the ruling," said Christianne Wilhelmson of
the Georgia Strait Alliance. "We hope that DFO will now start giving real
protection to endangered plants and animals without having to be dragged into
court for every species it is supposed to protect. Canadians owe a lot to this
little minnow and to the scientists who stood up for
"This case is not only a tremendous victory for the dace, but for
Canadian species everywhere that have been left unprotected by the Act," said
Rachel Plotkin of the David Suzuki Foundation.
The court's decision has implications far beyond the Nooksack dace.
Justice Campbell ruled that critical habitat for the Nooksack dace was deleted
on the basis of an unlawful DFO policy direction. That policy directed that
critical habitat information should be removed or suppressed from all recovery
strategies for all aquatic species at risk in British Columbia.
"We are putting DFO on formal notice that it has 90 days to rewrite
BC species' recovery strategies that have unlawfully failed to identify critical
habitat," said Ecojustice lawyer Lara Tessaro. "DFO's unlawful policy appears to
have affected at least 20 aquatic species in BC, from resident killer whales to
blue whales to Salish suckers. We believe the Court's decision means that DFO
must fix at least 17 recovery strategies."
The ruling is the second major legal victory for endangered species
in eight weeks. In another Ecojustice lawsuit, the Federal Court also ruled in
favour of species-at-risk, holding that the Minister of Environment had acted
unlawfully in declining to identify critical habitat of the Prairies' greater
"This string of successful lawsuits means that the Government of
Canada can no longer turn a blind eye to disappearing species by claiming it
can't identify critical habitat," said Gwen Barlee of the Wilderness Committee.
"This is a whale of a judgement: a ruling about a homely minnow will actually
protect BC's endangered humpback and killer
The environmental groups will be participating in a five-year
parliamentary review of the Species at Risk Act which is set to resume later
"With the impending
five-year review of the Species At Risk Act by Parliament, we hope that the
inadequacies of the Act's implementation that this case lays bare prompts
thorough public hearings by MP's," said Rick Smith of Environmental Defence.
"Canadians deserve some answers as to why the federal government is failing to
protect our country's natural heritage despite having a legal duty to do
For more information, please visit www.ecojustice.ca or contact:
Tessaro, Lawyer, Ecojustice, (604) 313-3132 or Susan Pinkus, Staff Scientist,
Rachel Plotkin, Biodiversity Policy Analyst, David
Suzuki Foundation (613) 594-9026
Rick Smith, Executive Director,
Environmental Defence Canada ,
Barlee, Policy Director, Wilderness Committee, (604) 683-8220 or cell (604)
Wilhelmson, Managing Director, Georgia Strait Alliance, (604)
scientific information on Nooksack dace, please contact:
Pearson Ph.D., leading Nooksack dace expert, Pearson Ecological, (604) 785-7246