Recent Decisions Help Clarify Federal Environmental Assessment Regime

In recent months, there have been several interesting decisions issued by the Federal Court of Canada that have helped to clarify the federal environmental assessment (EA) regime.

In Council of the Innu of Ekuanitshit v Canada (Attorney General), the court decided that the federal Cabinet must provide reasons for its determination that significant adverse environmental effects are "justified in the circumstances." A brief by the Environmental Law Centre examined the decision and according to their brief, the federal cabinet is not asked to provide the reasoning for allowing a project despite significant environmental effects beyond claiming they are "justifiable" The Court decision will now require some justification for allowing the project.

In Greenpeace Canada v Canada(Attorney General), the court drew a clear distinction between the EA process and subsequent regulatory decision making, and determined that the EA process must provide the necessary factual basis for any subsequent regulatory decisions.

The details and implications of the two cases are discussed further in Is Canada prepared to meet the challenges of the future? - a recent posting on the WCEL website. (

With major changes to the federal environmental assessment process and requirements only the largest projects will be subject to a federal EA. However, our members also benefit from an effective Environmental Assessment process since industrial activities can impact the effectiveness of their operations.

Canadian Water and Wastewater Association