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Citizens' groups win court battles against government-sanctioned logging.

Citizens' groups and individuals in British Columbia and Ontario are successfully standing up to governments that have been running roughshod over their own environmental laws and procedures.

Courts in both provinces have rapped the knuckles of forestry departments that allowed indiscriminate logging in sensitive areas of both provinces last summer. Over the past few months, courts have overturned anti-logging injunctions, thrown out charges against logging protestors and criticized the government for violating its own environmental laws.

In mid February, the Ontario Divisional Court released a decision criticizing the provincial government for violating environmental laws and striking down three logging plans in the northern part of the province. The Sierra Legal Defence Fund launched the case against the Ontario government in September 1996 on behalf of the Wildlands League and Friends of Temagami, alleging that logging was being carried out illegally in an area of Ontario the size of Belgium.

The court agreed with them in a decision which will affect logging operations throughout most of the province and was hailed as one of Ontario's most important environmental decisions to date.

In the court case, the Wildlands League and Friends of Temagami alleged that the Minister of Natural Resources approved logging in Temagami, Elk Lake and the Upper Spanish forests without complying with the Crown Forest Sustainability Act (CFSA), or with the conditions imposed by the Environmental Assessment Board in its decision concerning timber management in Ontario. The Court agreed and declared that the logging plans were illegal. At the suggestion of the groups, the Court gave the government one year to amend the logging plans so that they come into compliance with the law.

"The court agreed that the Minister of Natural Resources broke the law when he approved these forest management plans. The Minister approved the plans with no thought to the long term life and health of the forests, and that is simply illegal. You cannot put short term logging interests over the public's interest in the sustainability of the whole forest, including the animals and water," said Tom Heintzman, staff lawyer with the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, which acted for the two environmental groups.

In light of the court ruling, an adjournment was called in the cases of 35 forest activists from Earthroots still awaiting a court date for their arrests at the Owain Lake Ancient Forest Defence Camp in the fall of 1996. Earthroots' legal counsel has requested that the charges be dropped.

Also in early February, a British Columbia Supreme Court Justice dismissed civil contempt proceedings against BC residents who had participated in a peaceful blockade last year at Perry's Ridge in the Slocan Valley, trying to stop Slocan Forest Products from logging watersheds. One of the defendants, 76 year old retired sociologist Jack Ross, spent 70 days in jail as a result.

Back in November, the BC Supreme Court overturned an injunction that had been granted to the Attorney General of the province to allow logging at Perry's Ridge, saying that the evidence which led to the granting of the injunction was misleading and ignored government reports indicating the need for extensive and further hydrological studies before logging plans were developed. In early January, an Appeals Court judge denied the Attorney General the right to appeal that decision.
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Publication:Natural Life
Date:Mar 1, 1998
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