The Ontario Government is determined to build a new bridge to
the US, to reduce its dependance on the privately owned Ambassador
Bridge. The proposed Detroit Bridge requires a new highway, the
Windsor-Essex Parkway, through a biologically rich wetland. The
highway successfully passed its Ontario and federal environmental
assessments, "subject to all necessary permits", despite
the fact that seven endangered species lie in its path.
No one is allowed to destroy the habitat of an endangered
species without a permit. Under the Endangered Species
Act, the Minister of Natural Resources may issue the permit
only if he/ she is of the opinion that:
1. the proposed activities will result in a significant social
or economic benefit to Ontario;
2. the proposed activities will not jeopardize the
survival or recovery of the affected species in
3. reasonable alternatives have been considered, including
alternatives that would not adversely affect the species, and the
best alternative has been adopted; and
4. reasonable steps to minimize adverse effects on individual
members of the species are required by conditions of the
In this case, the Minister issued permits that allow the
destruction of this habitat, on the ground that the endangered
species will be successfully moved to new habitat, and that its
survival and recovery will therefore be unaffected. MTO has a
contract with a highway construction consortium, requiring
them to move the affected plants and animals. In the usual
structure of a "public private partnership", the
consortium, in turn, may lay off the obligation onto a highway
maintenance company. Thus, the paperwork will all look fine, and
everyone will have someone to blame.
Unfortunately, it won't work. Even the government's own
expert agrees: all previous attempts to move at least two of these
species have failed. They are not likely to survive having their
habitat bulldozed this time either. When legal fiction meets
reality, reality will win, and the endangered species will die. But
by then the highway will be built.
Is that all this Act will do? Create an expensive sort of legal
shell game while irreplaceable habitat is bulldozed? Would it be
different if the affected species here were more photogenic,
instead of snakes and plants? The Sierra
Club has asked the Divisional Court for an emergency
injunction, and to put some real teeth into the fine words of the
Endangered Species Act. Ontario says it must urgently
press ahead with construction, even though the US is not yet
committed to building its part of the road.
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