Contributed by Jamie Simpson
The Chronicle Herald
June 3, 2020
Thank you for the thoughtful editorial in Wednesday’s paper (“EDITORIAL: Judge to province: Listen to the Lorax,” June 3), and for drawing attention to Justice Brothers’ decision regarding the Department of Lands and Forestry’s systemic and chronic failure to fulfill its legal obligations under Nova Scotia’s Endangered Species Act. Combined with the recommendations of the Lahey Report, which stressed the need to adopt an ecological approach to forestry, the department has an opportunity to reinvent itself and let go of the outdated (and reckless) “clearcut, plant and spray” ideology.
Two points regarding your editorial. First is a minor correction: there are 71 species listed under the Endangered Species Act, but not all are endangered. Eight are either extinct or extirpated (no longer existing in Nova Scotia). Sea mink, for example, are extinct, and woodland caribou are extirpated. (Nova Scotia once had caribou and wolves; now we have deer and coyotes.) Thirty-three species are categorized as endangered, 13 as threatened and 17 as vulnerable or of special concern.
My second point is that I would not necessarily call the applicants in the lawsuit “a group of activists.” The applicants, in addition to Bob Bancroft, were the Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists, the Blomidon Naturalists Society and the Halifax Field Naturalists. These organizations are dedicated to the study, conservation and appreciation of nature. They are naturalists organizations first and foremost, and came to the decision to launch this lawsuit only after much discussion and deliberation.
In her decision, Justice Brothers noted (at paragraph 152) “the species (in this case) need people like Mr. Bancroft and organizations like the other applicants and the Intervenor (East Coast Environmental Law Association) to take such action and speak for them.”
To me, Justice Brothers’ comment is a recognition that it is up to citizens and organizations — not just those who consider themselves activists — to step up and request the court’s assistance in situations where the government is not respecting the rule of law. After all, these groups were not asking the government to change its species at risk laws, only to follow the existing laws.
The courts do not rule or comment on matters such as whether the Department of Lands and Forestry is fulfilling its legal obligations unless citizens request the courts to do so. In other words, citizens and groups like the naturalists organizations have a fundamental role in striving for a healthy democracy. In the absence of Bancroft and the naturalists groups’ decision to request the court’s assistance, the “chronic and systemic failures” identified by Justice Brothers (some or all) may have continued indefinitely.
Jamie Simpson is the lawyer representing Bob Bancroft and the naturalists organizations in the recent species at risk lawsuit. He lives in Fergusons Cove.