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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The legal standing of Canadian environmental control organizations Switzer, James G.

Abstract

Environmental control has become a major problem in North America's highly industrialized society. Governments are continually striving to find methods to effectively halt and control environmental degradation. One of the major manifestations of the desperate concern for improved environmental quality has been the emergence of a strong "public interest" environmental control movement in the United States. Canada, on the other hand, has given very little scope to public participation in the environmental decision-making process. The object of this paper is to determine the extent to which a strong environmental control movement can contribute to higher environmental quality, and to suggest methods to introduce public participation to the Canadian environmental control system. The advantages and disadvantages of allowing public participation are examined, with the conclusion that a strong environmental control movement with substantial participatory rights is essential to effective and comprehensive environmental control. The conclusion is also reached that the public can most appropriately be represented in the decision process by environmental control organizations. Evaluation is made of the present Canadian laws governing legal standing of "public interest" groups to participate. The lack of such standing is demonstrated both by the rigid standing rules of common law, and the failure of Canadian environmental legislation to relax these rules and adapt them to the specific problems encountered in environmental control law. The American system is considered in detail as an example of relaxed standing with respect to environmental control organizations, and the resultant benefit to environmental control efforts in the jurisdiction. The Americans have enacted the National Environmental Policy Act which requires that every federal agency develop methods of assessing the environmental consequence of propose actions and suggest alternatives to those actions. Failure to comply with these requirements constitutes a reviewable breach. Other American statutes have in effect removed all standing requirements and allow virtually anyone to sue to force compliance with environmental standards and regulations. It is concluded from the American experience that public participation is generally a desirable phenomenon in environmental control. It is further concluded that Canada can no longer justify its exclusion of public representation and requires legislation designed to implement the concept of "public interest" standing. To that end, recommendations are made to adopt an enactment similar to the National Environmental Policy Act in Canada and to introduce a system of registration whereby environmental control organizations, once registered, would be assured of participatory rights at all levels of the Canadian environmental decision-making process.

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