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Park protectors take Government to court
In a case that could break new legal ground, the Friends of Strathcona Park have filed a petition in the Supreme Court of British Columbia to challenge the ability and authority of the government of BC to ignore the public’s interest in preserving and protecting natural resources in favour of supporting private business interests.
While the specific case revolves around the granting of a park use permit to an exclusive private resort, allowing horse tours into a wilderness valley within Strathcona Park, it also raises the broader issue of the violation of public trust by government on a broad range of other issues.
“Whether the local issue is the creeping privatization of B.C.’s parks, the sale of BC Rail, the diminishment of health care services, the abdication of environmental assessments, the pressure to construct oil pipelines without consultation, or unprecedented permission for new mining projects, almost every British Columbian can relate directly to a feeling of loss of control over their “commons”, says Kel Kelly, a spokesperson for the Friends’ group.
“We have entered a new era, where the partnership between governments and private interests is so strong that it is rapidly eroding places, natural wonders and ideas that hold a powerful place in the hearts of most British Columbians. Things we have long held as sacred and public are being stolen from under our feet”, says Kelly. “We have no alternative but to challenge these thefts of public assets, both on the ground and in the courts. That is what this case is about.”
The Friends of Strathcona have garnered support from the Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund (EDRF), an initiative of West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL), who are dedicated to saving the environment through law. “West Coast agrees with the Friends that decisions about what goes on in Strathcona Park, and other Provincial Parks, need to focus first and foremost on what’s good for the park, and its ecosystems and recreational users, and not on business interests”, states Andrew Gage, Staff Counsel and EDRF Liaison for West Coast.
“We believe we have a strong case here”, says Kelly, noting that the petition to the court is based on strong substantive grounds. “Permission for this park use permit was granted by the government despite overwhelming opposition from every community adjacent to the park, from every public input session and from a wide variety of citizens’ groups.”
The Friends will be arguing that there are limits to Ministerial discretion in granting a permit including that the permit cannot violate the public trust and that the Minister of Environment must consider environmental impacts in granting a permit.
“This is an important case for all of us who want to protect our commons for future generations”, says Kelly. “We feel we have a good chance to win this battle.”
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