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Great Lakes Article:

Fighting to Protect Ontario’s Highest Waterfall

Case against federal government reaches Federal Court of Appeal

06/25/2002

Toronto – A trapper from northern Ontario is going up against some heavyweights starting today at the Federal Court of Appeal. John Lavoie is taking on three Ministries of the federal government, a power company and a First Nations group to protect Twin Falls - Ontario’s highest wilderness waterfall.

Mr. Lavoie, who has trapped, fished and camped near the Falls for more than 30 years, alleges the federal government broke the law when it approved a hydroelectric project on the Kagiano River, north of Lake Superior, four years ago. The issue has been making its way through the justice system ever since.

"If it weren’t for concerned citizens like Mr. Lavoie, the federal government wouldn’t be held accountable for breaking the law," said Michelle Campbell, Director of Citizen Support at Environmental Defence Canada, a national group supporting Mr. Lavoie.

After the environmental review of the hydro project began, Mr. Lavoie made more than 20 requests to the federal government for specific documents. He was concerned that the review did not include critical information - such as seasonal flow rates of the river - and that once built it would cause massive destruction of fish habitat. Under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the government is obliged to provide the public with access to all relevant documents about environmental reviews.

The federal government stalled Mr. Lavoie for six months, until he took legal action. By that time, the government had approved the project and Kagiano Power Company had started construction.

The project is now operational. It has reduced Ontario’s highest waterfall to a mere trickle, and destroyed thousands of square metres of fish habitat. The Kagiano River was a popular route for wilderness canoe trippers.

"The federal government clearly failed in its obligation to provide the public with timely access to information about the environmental review," said Rodney Northey, Birchall Northey, the Toronto law firm representing Mr. Lavoie. "If the government had allowed public participation, it may have done a better job of protecting the Falls and the fish."

The federal government also failed to study how the project would affect fish and fish habitat in the Kagiano River. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans relied on unsubstantiated assumptions about the fish population in the area and how much habitat would be lost.

"If we sort out what went wrong with this hydro project, then we can make sure such a disaster doesn’t happen again," said John Lavoie. "There are many more proposals for hydro projects in the North. Let’s get this first one right."

The Federal Court ruled against Mr. Lavoie in July, 2000, leading to the appeal. The trial judge also ordered Mr. Lavoie to pay the legal costs of the power company and the government.

Mr. Lavoie is asking the Federal Court of Appeal to reverse the trial judge’s decision, and to throw out the federal approvals for the hydro project.

About Environmental Defence Canada

Founded in 1984, Environmental Defence Canada (www.edcanada.org) gives Canadians the tools and knowledge they need to protect and improve the environment and their health. Environmental Defence Canada was previously known as the Canadian Environmental Defence Fund.

Since its founding, Environmental Defence Canada has provided some $6 million in assistance to citizen’s groups across Canada. The organization supports several groups fighting to protect their natural heritage.

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For more information, please contact:

Jennifer Foulds, Communications Coordinator, Environmental Defence Canada

(416) 323-9521

Rodney Northey, Birchall Northey, counsel for John Lavoie

(416) 860-1412

Please note: John Lavoie will be in Toronto for the appeal, and is available for interviews through Rodney Northey’s office.

 

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