Fighting to Protect Ontario’s
Case against federal government reaches
Federal Court of Appeal
– 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
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
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
Founded in 1984, Environmental Defence
Canadians the tools and knowledge they need to protect
and improve the environment and their health. Environmental
was previously known as the Canadian Environmental Defence
Since its founding, Environmental Defence
has provided some $6 million in assistance to citizen’s
groups across Canada.
The organization supports several groups fighting to
protect their natural heritage.
For more information, please contact:
Communications Coordinator, Environmental Defence
Birchall Northey, counsel for John
Please note: John Lavoie will be in
for the appeal, and is available for interviews through
Rodney Northey’s office.