Ontario court finds provincial government broke law on lack of public consultations

Click to play video: 'Provincial zoning order could see large swath of Pickering wetlands destroyed'
Provincial zoning order could see large swath of Pickering wetlands destroyed
WATCH ABOVE: More than 55 acres of provincially significant wetland could be affected by a new Pickering development that has now been fast-tracked by the provincial government. The project would see four-million-square-foot warehouse built on the site. Frazer Snowdon has more – Nov 3, 2020

TORONTO — An Ontario court has found the provincial government broke the law by failing to adhere to the Environmental Bill of Rights.

Several environmental groups brought forth applications for judicial reviews over the province’s alleged failure to consult with the public before enacting the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act.

Late last year, the province opened up consultations to the public months after the passage of Bill 197 last summer.

The Superior Court of Justice says the minister of municipal affairs acted “unreasonably and unlawfully” by consulting with the public months after it enacted changes.

Read more: Advocates, opposition slam Ontario government’s move to strengthen minister’s zoning power

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said the government was forced to act quickly “in the face of a rapidly changing pandemic.”

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“The ministry consulted with the public after Bill 197 was implemented, and continues to do so, with a clear commitment to take the public’s input into consideration whenever an enhanced Minister’s Zoning Order is used,” Zoe Knowles said.

“As Ontario continues to respond to COVID-19, we will not let red tape put Ontarians’ health and safety at risk.”

The three-judge panel granted the judicial review in part, but dismissed numerous other challenges the environmental groups raised about other ministries.

The court said the government failed to post proposed amendments over the controversial use of Ministerial Zoning Orders on the Environmental Registry prior to implementation.

Read more: Doug Ford defends use of Ontario’s controversial zoning order power as development concerns mount

The province has used the so-called MZOs to fast-track land developments, especially in environmentally sensitive Greenbelt.

Environmental groups that were part of the case hailed the Sept. 3 decision as a victory for the environment.

“As Environmental Commissioner of Ontario for 15 years, I am heartened to see the court uphold the rights of people to participate in government decision-making affecting the environment,” said Gord Miller, chair of Earthroots, one of the organizations involved in the court battle.

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“The court’s declaration is clear — the Government of Ontario broke the law in violating those rights.”

Read more: Minister’s zoning order could impact large swath of provincially significant wetlands

The Canadian Environmental Law Association said the decision reaffirms the public’s rights.

“The Environmental Bill of Rights provides very significant tools for the people of Ontario to know about, and participate in, decisions that affect their environment,” said Theresa McClenaghan, the executive director of CELA.

Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said it was a win for the public.

“Ontarians have a right to participate in government decision-making that impacts the environment,” Schreiner said.

“By violating Ontarians’ environmental rights, Doug Ford has not only broken the law but has also made it clear that he will put his pro-sprawl, pro-developer agenda above all else.”

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