October 8, 2021

Owls Head Provincial Park Court Appeal

Bob Bancroft and Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association hope that their case will be the first in Canada to usher in a new age in environmental law in Canada.

Respected wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft and local environmental group Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association are heading back to court. In July, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Christa Brothers ruled that there is “no recognized common law duty of procedural fairness owed by the Crown to the public at large.” But the applicants believe it’s time for that to change.

“The underlying question in this appeal is whether Nova Scotians ought to be informed before the government makes decisions affecting the fate of ecologically important lands, especially those lands that have been identified as protected,” said Jamie Simpson of Juniper Law, who will be representing the applicants. “We believe the answer is yes and that the courts play an inherent role in promoting fair government decision-making.”

Simpson said that the applicants had asked Justice Brothers to decide in their favour by recognizing the existence of the “public trust doctrine” in common law for the first time by a Canadian court.

“New laws to protect the public interests are needed,” said applicant Bob Bancroft, who worked for the provincial government for almost three decades. “If the sale of Owls Head proceeds, developers across Nova Scotia will be asking to buy other vulnerable public park lands at bargain-basement prices.” 

“The government should not have the right to unilaterally—and secretly—do as it pleases with public land. That’s a message that Nova Scotians have delivered at the ballot box and beyond,” said Lindsay Lee of Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association. “But we also need to ensure that this can never happen again. Without stronger legal protections, Nova Scotia’s parks and protected areas will perpetually be at risk. And in the midst of rapid biodiversity loss and climate change, that’s not good for the public or the planet.”

Across the province, approximately 125 provincial parks, nature reserves, and wilderness areas are still awaiting designation. In many cases, citizens and communities have no idea that these “parks” aren’t legally protected, meaning that these, too, could be secretly delisted and offered for sale.

“Governments that renege on a promised park designation and secretly offer public land to developers should understand that concerned citizens and environmental groups will take action,” said Bancroft.


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