A win for nature: Court finds Ford guilty

September 8, 2021
Anthony Merante, Mark Cooper

On September 4th 2021, the courts found that Bill 197 which cuts out public consultation and input into major decisions regarding Ontario’s environment was done so unlawfully.

The problem

On July 8th 2020 the Ford government introduced Bill197, which amended 20 pieces of legislation and allowed the Province to fast-track development and bypass environmental risk assessments. Most concerning for our environment were these two changes:

·      making it easier for the Government to use Minister’s Zoning Order (MZOs) to overrule municipal councils and bypass public consultation for developments, and

·      amending the Environmental AssessmentAct (EAA) so that industrial development is no longer automatically subject to environmental assessments, therefore eliminating a critical stage in evaluating risk to the environment and public of  any development.  

Simply put, Bill 197 made it easier for the Provincial government to disregard public health, the environment, and freely decide how land is used in Ontario without public input. This bill was introduced with little debate and no public consultation, which is required by theEnvironmental Bill of Rights.

The fight

Earthroots relies on the transparency of the public consultation process to provide opportunity to oppose legislation that puts our ecosystems at risk.  Earthroots, along with the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), Ontario Nature and other concerned environmental activists, took the ProvincialGovernment to court to fight for the Ontario’s environment. On May 17th 2021, our lawyers presented their case that the Ford government ignored its responsibilities under the Environmental Bill of Rights that requires public consultation and input when introducing Bill 197 due to its strong implications on the environment.

The outcome

In a landmark decision, the Ontario Divisional Court ruled the Provincial government broke the law by not seeking public input when it introduced Bill 197. Gord Miller, Chair of Earthroots’ Board says, “As Environmental Commissioner of Ontario for 15 years, I am heartened to see Court uphold the rights of people to participate in government decision-making affecting the environment. The court’s declaration is clear –the Government of Ontario broke the law in violating those rights.”

What You can Do

Sadly, there is nothing in the court ruling that stops the Province from using MZOs to help developers bypass public consultation and good planning practices. This puts our ecosystems and our health at risk by allowing developments that impair our drinking water supplies, further climate change, facilitate flooding, erase species from the landscape, and see ecosystems like wetlands and forests lost in southernOntario.

The only way we can stop this from happening is by getting Ontarians to demand a stop to the use of MZOs. Please talk to your friends and family about what is happening in Ontario and how you need them to speak up against the loss of Ontario’s environmental protection.

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