Posts by Paula Boutis

Moving away from the transport of dangerous goods toward safer, low-carbon solutions

December 4th, 2013 by Paula Boutis

The Lac‑Mégantic derailment in Quebec last July involved the transportation of 72 tank cars of crude oil. This derailment caused the confirmed deaths of 42 people, with five more missing and presumed dead. Approximately half the downtown core was destroyed. It is one of the most significant train disasters in Canadian history.

This event and other train derailments that have since followed have proponents of pipelines using these occasions to expound the view that pipelines are the safest way to move fossil fuels. As the argument goes, we should be allowing new pipelines and the hold‑up of their approvals will only force the transportation of dangerous goods onto a more dangerous form of transportation, rail.

On Tuesday, the Auditor General’s 2013 Fall Report looked in part at rail safety. But it did not specifically look at the Lac‑Mégantic accident or any other rail accidents. For that, we must go back to a December 2011 report by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.


After bizarre saga, Information and Privacy Commissioner decision gives hope for better access to scientific studies

July 5th, 2013 by Paula Boutis

On May 14, 2013, the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) issued a long awaited appeal decision (pdf) on the Ministry of Natural Resources’ (MNR) and the Ministry of Transportation’s (MTO) refusal to release natural heritage reports. Ostensibly access was refused on the basis of Cabinet privilege. On appeal, the IPC ordered the release of these reports to Sierra Club Ontario Chapter (SCO).

This was a bizarre case of the left hand not talking to the right hand, and the Ministries wanting it both ways.

Continue reading “After bizarre saga, Information and Privacy Commissioner decision gives hope for better access to scientific studies”

Court rejects Conservative Party MPs’ attempt to block non-profit Council of Canadians from supporting public interest litigation

June 27th, 2013 by Paula Boutis

Amidst all the excitement around the Federal Court’s May 23, 2013 decision (pdf) in which the court held that “electoral fraud occurred during the 41st General Election,” the court was also asked to dismiss the applications outright on the basis of how the applicants were funding their legal bills.

This was one of many tactics employed by the respondent Members of Parliament (MPs) to derail the litigation and prevent it from ever being heard.

This issue around how the litigation was funded is of general importance in the context of public interest litigation. In public interest cases, the litigants, whether non-profits or individuals, have limited financial means to pursue the litigation. Funding public interest litigation only gets harder and harder, so it was refreshing to see a complete vindication of the funding of this case by the Council of Canadians.


A victory for better planning advocates — and without breaking the bank

March 5th, 2013 by Paula Boutis

In November 2011, we posted a blog about cost effective strategies to promote better planning and development in your neighbourhood.  As part of that post, we encouraged community groups who have appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) to seriously consider settlement as a way to achieve goals and avoid a costly hearing.

Recently, I became aware of a decision where a community group, Centretown Citizens in Ottawa, did just that, and is happy to brag about it.  You can find their story here.  Centretown notes, quite rightly, that not only is it costly for the citizens groups to proceed with an OMB hearing, but a massive drain on the municipality’s coffers — public money — too.

Congratulations to the Centretown Citizens on finding a satisfactory resolution, and saving the taxpayers of Ottawa and other engaged citizens valuable resources.

Indigenous rights and the duty to consult

January 31st, 2013 by Paula Boutis and Jessica Weizenbluth

On January 8, 2013, Frog Lake First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation, through their respective Chiefs, launched judicial review cases in the Federal Court. They are challenging the passage of the now infamous federal government omnibus budget bills, Bill C‑38 (Jobs, Growth and Long‑term Prosperity Act, S.C. 2012, c. 19); and Bill C‑45 (Jobs and Growth Act, 2012, S.C. c.31).

Other Canadians who may oppose these bills can only express their displeasure with them at the ballot box. With Canada’s first‑past‑the‑post electoral system, and a significant fracturing of the centre and centre‑left, it seems like an uphill battle for the rest of the country to challenge these laws, widely considered to be anti‑democratic. For all the efforts of multiple environmental organizations and the actions of the opposition in the House of Commons (perhaps most poignantly, member of Parliament Elizabeth May), there’s not a whole lot the rest of us can do.

Enter, First Nations.


A small victory: decision grants broad rights to participate in environmental reviews, but changes to scope of EAs and cuts will hamper access, result in less thorough reviews

January 17th, 2013 by Paula Boutis and Jessica Weizenbluth

Last November Laura Bowman wrote a blog post about Alberta case law which might shed some light on how “interested party” status under the new federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) might be interpreted, particularly as it relates to who is deemed to be “directly affected”.   To have a right to participate in hearings under CEAA, parties must establish they are an “interested party”, and to be an interested party, the party must either be “directly affected by the carrying out of the designated project” or have “relevant information or expertise”.

Subsequent to Laura’s post, we learned of a decision of a Federal Review Panel (the Panel) constituted under CEAA which explored this question.

Continue reading “A small victory: decision grants broad rights to participate in environmental reviews, but changes to scope of EAs and cuts will hamper access, result in less thorough reviews”