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Ontario species protection weakens

Nov. 6, 2013, Toronto - In a special report to the legislature, Laying Siege to the Last Line of Defence, Ontario's Environmental Commissioner warns that new regulation changes under the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) threaten the protection of the province's species at risk.

The ESA prohibits the harming, harassing or killing of endangered and threatened species, or the destruction of their habitat. Now, the regulation exempts proponents of many activities from the requirement to have a permit before they harm endangered species or their habitats; instead, they only need to follow rules set out in the new regulations. "The full protections of the law no longer apply to activities such as forestry operations, aggregate pits and quarries, hydro-electric dams and infrastructure construction - activities that historically contributed to species becoming threatened in the first place."

"By eliminating the permit process, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has shed its ability to say 'no' to a proposed activity, no matter how harmful it may be to an imperilled species," says Commissioner Miller. "And since proponents don't have to file any monitoring reports with the ministry, MNR will be blind to the effectiveness of its new rules."

The Environmental Commissioner says that MNR has been evading its responsibilities since the ESA came into effect in 2008. "The Ministry had five years to ensure that 155 recovery plans were completed for species at risk, but nearly half of them have been delayed, often with dubious explanations. Rather than doing its job, MNR brought forward new regulations that strike at the very heart of the law."

Miller says it's wrong to blame the law for the failure of species protection in Ontario. "The fault lies entirely with the Ministry of Natural Resources. MNR has been stalling recovery strategies, delaying habitat protection, mismanaging the permitting process, and deliberately ignoring public participation."

The Environmental Commissioner says the public has lost its rights as well. "Proposals to harm endangered species or their habitats will no longer show up on the Environmental Registry, so the public won't have any ability to know or comment." When MNR posted its proposal to change species protection in Ontario, more than 10,000 Ontarians responded.

Miller says Ontario's efforts to protect species at risk must be guided by three core principles: the Ministry of Natural Resources must actually take responsibility for improving the protection of species at risk; decisions should ultimately lead to the recovery of species; and MNR must genuinely engage the public.

"MNR's regulatory amendments fail on all accounts," says Miller, "and undermine what the Ontario legislature set out in law."

November 6, 2013  By press release

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