The Last Line of Defence Conclusion

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The Last Line of Defence: A Review of Ontario’s New Protections for Species at Risk

This Special Report, submitted to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario on February 24, 2009, reviews Ontario’s new Endangered Species Act, 2007 and recommends additional steps by the Government of Ontario to protect and recover species at risk and their habitats.

The protection and recovery of species at risk is an integral part of conserving Ontario’s biodiversity. By definition, the survival of these species is in jeopardy. The importance of having up-to-date laws that reflect today’s environmental realities, modern science, and contemporary values cannot be overstated. Effective legislation serves as the last line of defence for the province’s species at risk.

The province’s new framework for protecting at-risk species is a vast improvement, in many ways, over the previous law and related policies. However, the new framework contains provisions that, if inappropriately exercised, could potentially lead to the continued imperilment of many of Ontario’s most vulnerable species.

As many of the law’s provisions are highly discretionary in nature, despite the science-based process for some aspects of the legislation, the success of protecting and recovering species at risk relies on administering the Act in good faith. New flexibility tools should be used to alleviate conflicts that arose under the old law, not to accommodate a business-as-usual approach in which the environment suffers. When conflicts do arise between competing priorities, the protection of species at risk should prevail. Any exemptions from the Endangered Species Act, 2007 must be truly exceptional and rare occurrences.

It is important that the Endangered Species Act, 2007 be implemented in a transparent and accountable fashion. Unfortunately, it has not been fully prescribed under the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993, a serious shortcoming that should be swiftly remedied.

The ECO firmly believes that the protection of species at risk should be a clear and indisputable priority across the entire Ontario government. The Ministry of Natural Resources should not be alone in its responsibility to conserve species at risk. Other ministries – Finance, Environment, Transportation, Municipal Affairs and Housing, to name but a few – have important roles to play.

The former Minister of Natural Resources has described the new law as a “win-win for all of us.” The ECO believes that the only definitive “win” for species at risk is when their threats are reduced or eliminated, their population recovers, their habitat is secured, and they are de-listed. The ECO hopes that the Ontario government will embrace the opportunity presented by the Endangered Species Act, 2007 to make this “win” a reality.

Key strengths and weaknesses of the Endangered Species Act, 2007

Strengths:

  • Regulates a range of species at risk at different threat levels
  • Impartial process to assess and list species
  • Mandatory recovery strategies for endangered and threatened species
  • Requires the government to respond to recovery strategies
  • Contains prohibitions on the killing of species and the destruction of their habitat
  • Recognizes the precautionary principle
  • Provides greater opportunities for public participation


Weaknesses:
  • Allows any activity to be exempted by regulation at any point in the future, subject to conditions
  • Unclear whether recovery planning will be impartial and science-based
  • Regulated habitat protection is discretionary for most species
  • Vague requirements for what actions the government will take after a recovery strategy is developed
  • Wide latitude to issue permits and agreements that may allow species to be killed or their habitat destroyed
  • No mandatory expiry dates or periodic assessments of permits and agreements
  • No mechanisms to prevent species from becoming at-risk



Citing This Article:
Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. 2009. The Last Line of Defence: A Review of Ontario’s New Protections for Species at Risk, ECO Special Report, 2009. Toronto, ON : Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. pp. 60-61

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