Hearings begin before Supreme Court on federal environmental impact assessment law

Federal lawyers defended the government’s Impact Assessment Act in the Supreme Court of Canada on Tuesday against concerns the legislation was too broad.

Justice Malcolm Rowe said the act allows Ottawa to use narrow concerns over matters such as fisheries to gain control over a wide variety of unconnected issues.

“The feds get their hook in under some head of power and once the hook is in, they can use that for any purpose they want,” he suggested to federal lawyer Chris Rupar.

Rupar said it’s not unusual for environmental assessment legislation to address a broad range of issues. Legislation from Alberta — one of the provinces opposing the federal bill — does similar things, Rupar said.

Rupar said the law contains safeguards to ensure that it only captures development proposals that would generate “significant” impacts.

“It’s not all projects or physical activities that are covered,” he said. “There are thresholds.”

Dayna Anderson, Rupar’s co-counsel, argued the legislation is needed to ensure national consistency in environmental standards.

Disallowing the bill, she said, “would create provincial enclaves and completely and totally immunize provincial resource development from federal regulation in any area, no matter the magnitude of the federal effects it would cause.”

The five justices are hearing an appeal launched by the federal government after the Alberta Court of Appeal found the act unconstitutional last May.

Nine out of 10 provinces oppose the act, as well as other groups such as the Indian Resource Council and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

The bill is supported by a broad array of legal experts and environmental groups.

The court is to hear arguments Tuesday in support of the bill. Opponents are slated to speak Wednesday.

© 2023 The Canadian Press

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