Friends of the Oldman River Society v. Canada (Minister of Transport)  1 S.C.R. 3: - Environmental assessment - Whether federal environmental guidelines order intra vires Parliament - Judicial review - Remedies - Discretion
Present: Lamer C.J. and La Forest, L'Heureux-Dubé, Sopinka, Gonthier, Cory, McLachlin, Stevenson and Iacobucci JJ.
ON APPEAL FROM THE FEDERAL COURT OF APPEAL
Constitutional law - Distribution of legislative powers - Environment - Environmental assessment - Whether federal environmental guidelines order intra vires Parliament - Constitution Act, 1867, ss. 91, 92 - Environmental Assessment and Review Process Guidelines Order, SOR/84-467.
Environmental law - Environmental assessment - Statutory validity of federal environmental guidelines order - Whether guidelines order authorized by s. 6 of Department of the Environment Act - Whether guidelines order inconsistent with Navigable Waters Protection Act - Department of the Environment Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. E-10, s. 6 - Navigable Waters Protection Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. N-22, ss. 5, 6 - Environmental Assessment and Review Process Guidelines Order, SOR/84-467.
Environmental law - Environmental assessment - Applicability of federal environmental guidelines order - Alberta building dam on Oldman River
- Dam affecting areas of federal responsibility such as navigable waters and fisheries - Whether guidelines order applicable only to new federal projects -Whether Minister of Transport and Minister of Fisheries and Oceans must comply with guidelines order - Department of the Environment Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. E-10, ss. 4(1)(a), 5(a)(ii), 6 - Environmental Assessment and Review Process Guidelines Order, SOR/84-467, ss. 2 "proposal", "initiating department", 6 - Navigable Waters Protection Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. N-22, s. 5 - Fisheries Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. F-14, ss. 35, 37.
Crown - Immunity - Provinces - Whether Crown in right of province bound by provisions of Navigable Waters Protection Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. N-22 - Interpretation Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. I-21, s. 17.
Administrative law - Judicial review - Remedies - Discretion - Alberta building dam on Oldman River - Dam affecting areas of federal responsibility such as navigable waters and fisheries - Environmental group applying for certiorari and mandamus in Federal Court to compel Minister of Transport and Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to comply with federal environmental guidelines order - Applications dismissed on grounds of unreasonable delay and futility - Whether Court of Appeal erred in interfering with motions judge's discretion not to grant remedy sought.
The respondent Society, an Alberta environmental group, brought applications for certiorari and mandamus in the Federal Court seeking to compel the federal departments of Transport and Fisheries and Oceans to conduct an environmental assessment, pursuant to the federal Environmental Assessment and Review Process Guidelines Order, in respect of a dam constructed on the Oldman River by the province of Alberta - a project which affects several federal interests, in particular navigable waters, fisheries, Indians and Indian lands. The Guidelines Order was established under s. 6 of the federal Department of the Environment Act and requires all federal departments and agencies that have a decision-making authority for any proposal (i.e., any initiative, undertaking or activity) that may have an environmental effect on an area of federal responsibility to initially screen such proposal to determine whether it may give rise to any potentially adverse environmental effects. The province had itself conducted extensive environmental studies over the years which took into account public views, including the views of Indian bands and environmental groups, and, in September 1987, had obtained from the Minister of Transport an approval for the work under s. 5 of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. This section provides that no work is to be built in navigable waters without the prior approval of the Minister. In assessing Alberta's application, the Minister considered only the project's effect on navigation and no assessment under the Guidelines Order was made. Respondent's attempts to stop the project in the Alberta courts failed and both the federal Ministers of the Environment and of Fisheries and Oceans declined requests to subject the project to the Guidelines Order. The contract for the construction of the dam was awarded in 1988 and the project was 40 per cent complete when the respondent commenced its action in the Federal Court in April 1989. The Trial Division dismissed the applications. On appeal, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment, quashed the approval under s. 5 of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, and ordered the Ministers of Transport and of Fisheries and Oceans to comply with the Guidelines Order. This appeal raises the constitutional and statutory validity of the Guidelines Order as well as its nature and applicability. It also raises the question whether the motions judge properly exercised his discretion in deciding not to grant the remedy sought on grounds of unreasonable delay and futility.
Held (Stevenson J. dissenting): The appeal should be dismissed, with the exception that there should be no order in the nature of mandamus directing the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to comply with the Guidelines Order.
Statutory Validity of the Guidelines Order
The Guidelines Order was validly enacted pursuant to s. 6 of the Department of the Environment Act, and is mandatory in nature. When one reads s. 6 as a whole, rather than focusing on the word "guidelines" in isolation, it is clear that Parliament has elected to adopt a regulatory scheme that is "law", and amenable to enforcement through prerogative relief. The "guidelines" are not merely authorized by statute but must be formally enacted by "order" with the approval of the Governor in Council. That is in striking contrast with the usual internal ministerial policy guidelines intended for the control of public servants under the minister's authority.
The Guidelines Order, which requires the decision maker to take socio-economic considerations into account in the environmental impact assessment, does not go beyond what is authorized by the Department of the Environment Act. The concept of "environmental quality" in s. 6 of the Act is not confined to the biophysical environment alone. The environment is a diffuse subject matter and, subject to the constitutional imperatives, the potential consequences for a community's livelihood, health and other social matters from environmental change, are integral to decision making on matters affecting environmental quality.
The Guidelines Order is consistent with the Navigable Waters Protection Act. There is nothing in the Act which explicitly or implicitly precludes the Minister of Transport from taking into consideration any matters other than marine navigation in exercising his power of approval under s. 5 of the Act. The Minister's duty under the Order is supplemental to his responsibility under the Navigable Waters Protection Act, and he cannot resort to an excessively narrow interpretation of his existing statutory powers to avoid compliance with the Order. There is also no conflict between the requirement for an initial assessment "as early in the planning process as possible and before irrevocable decisions are taken" in s. 3 of the Guidelines Order, and the remedial power under s. 6(4) of the Act to grant approval after the commencement of construction. That power is an exception to the general rule in s. 5 of the Act requiring approval prior to construction, and in exercising his discretion to grant approval after commencement, the Minister is not precluded from applying the Order.
Applicability of the Guidelines Order
The scope of the Guidelines Order is not restricted to "new federal projects, programs and activities"; the Order is not engaged every time a project may have an environmental effect on an area of federal jurisdiction. However, there must first be a "proposal" which requires an "initiative, undertaking or activity for which the Government of Canada has a decision making responsibility". The proper construction to be placed on the term "responsibility" is that the federal government, having entered the field in a subject matter assigned to it under s. 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867, must have an affirmative regulatory duty pursuant to an Act of Parliament which relates to the proposed initiative, undertaking or activity. "Responsibility" within the definition of "proposal" means a legal duty or obligation and should not be read as connoting matters falling generally within federal jurisdiction. Once such a duty exists, it is a matter of identifying the "initiating department" assigned responsibility for its performance, for it then becomes the "decision making authority" for the proposal and thus responsible for initiating the process under the Guidelines Order.
The Oldman River Dam project falls within the ambit of the Guidelines Order. The project qualifies as a proposal for which the Minister of Transport alone is the "initiating department" under s. 2 of the Order. The Navigable Waters Protection Act, in particular s. 5, places an affirmative regulatory duty on the Minister of Transport. Under that Act there is a legislatively entrenched regulatory scheme in place in which the approval of the Minister is required before any work that substantially interferes with navigation may be placed in, upon, over or under, through or across any navigable water.
The Guidelines Order does not apply to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, however, because there is no equivalent regulatory scheme under the Fisheries Act which is applicable to this project. The discretionary power to request or not to request information to assist a Minister in the exercise of a legislative function does not constitute a "decision making responsibility" within the meaning of the Order. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans under s. 37 of the Fisheries Act has only been given a limited ad hoc legislative power which does not constitute an affirmative regulatory duty.
The scope of assessment under the Guidelines Order is not confined to the particular head of power under which the Government of Canada has a decision-making responsibility within the meaning of the term "proposal". Under the Order, the initiating department which has been given authority to embark on an assessment must consider the environmental effect on all areas of federal jurisdiction. The Minister of Transport, in his capacity of decision maker under the Navigable Waters Protection Act, must thus consider the environmental impact of the dam on such areas of federal jurisdiction as navigable waters, fisheries, Indians and Indian lands.
Per Lamer C.J. and La Forest, L'Heureux-Dubé, Sopinka, Gonthier, Cory, McLachlin and Iacobucci JJ.: The Crown in right of Alberta is bound by the Navigable Waters Protection Act by necessary implication. The proprietary right the province may have in the bed of the Oldman River is subject to the public right of navigation, legislative jurisdiction over which has been exclusively vested in Parliament. Alberta requires statutory authorization from Parliament to erect any obstruction that substantially interferes with navigation in the Oldman River, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act is the means by which it must be obtained. The Crown in right of Alberta is bound by the Act, for it is the only practicable procedure available for getting approval. The purpose of the Act would be wholly frustrated if the province was not bound by the Act. The provinces are among the bodies that are likely to engage in projects that may interfere with navigation. Were the Crown in right of a province permitted to undermine the integrity of the essential navigational networks in Canadian waters, the legislative purpose of the Navigable Waters Protection Act would effectively be emasculated.
Per Stevenson J. (dissenting): The province of Alberta is not bound by the Navigable Waters Protection Act. The Crown is not bound by legislation unless it is mentioned or referred to in the legislation. Here, there are no words in the Act "expressly binding" the Crown and no clear intention to bind "is manifest from the very terms of the statute". As well, the failure to include the Crown would not wholly frustrate the purpose of the Act or produce an absurdity. There are many non-governmental agencies whose activities are subject to the Act and there is thus no emasculation of the Act. If the Crown interferes with a public right of navigation, that wrong is remediable by action. There is no significant benefit in approval under the Act. Tort actions may still lie.
Constitutional Validity of the Guidelines Order
The "environment" is not an independent matter of legislation under the Constitution Act, 1867. Understood in its generic sense, it encompasses the physical, economic and social environment and touches upon several of the heads of power assigned to the respective levels of government. While both levels may act in relation to the environment, the exercise of legislative power affecting environmental concerns must be linked to an appropriate head of power. Local projects will generally fall within provincial responsibility, but federal participation will be required if, as in this case, the project impinges on an area of federal jurisdiction.
The Guidelines Order is intra vires Parliament. The Order does not attempt to regulate the environmental effects of matters within the control of the province but merely makes environmental impact assessment an essential component of federal decision making. The Order is in pith and substance nothing more than an instrument that regulates the manner in which federal institutions must administer their multifarious duties and functions. In essence, the Order has two fundamental aspects. First, there is the substance of the Order dealing with environmental impact assessment to facilitate decision making under the federal head of power through which a proposal is regulated. This aspect of the Order can be sustained on the basis that it is legislation in relation to the relevant subject matters enumerated in s. 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867. The second aspect of the Order is its procedural or organizational element that coordinates the process of assessment, which can in any given case touch upon several areas of federal responsibility, under the auspices of a designated decision maker (the "initiating department"). This facet of the Order has as its object the regulation of the institutions and agencies of the Government of Canada as to the manner in which they perform their administrative functions and duties. This is unquestionably intra vires Parliament. It may be viewed either as an adjunct of the particular legislative powers involved, or, in any event, be justifiable under the residuary power in s. 91.
The Guidelines Order cannot be used as a colourable device to invade areas of provincial jurisdiction which are unconnected to the relevant heads of federal power. The "initiating department" is only given a mandate to examine matters directly related to the areas of federal responsibility potentially affected. Any intrusion under the Order into provincial matters is merely incidental to the pith and substance of the legislation.
Per Lamer C.J. and La Forest, L'Heureux-Dubé, Sopinka, Gonthier, Cory, McLachlin and Iacobucci JJ.: The Federal Court of Appeal did not err in interfering with the motions judge's discretion not to grant the remedies sought on the grounds of unreasonable delay and futility. Respondent made a sustained effort, through legal proceedings in the Alberta courts and through correspondence with federal departments, to challenge the legality of the process followed by the province to build the dam and the acquiescence of the appellant Ministers, and there is no evidence that Alberta has suffered any prejudice from any delay in taking the present action. Despite ongoing legal proceedings, the construction of the dam continued. The province was not prepared to accede to an environmental impact assessment under the Order until it had exhausted all legal avenues. The motions judge did not weigh these considerations adequately, giving the Court of Appeal no choice but to intervene. Futility was also not a proper ground to refuse a remedy in the present circumstances. Prerogative relief should only be refused on that ground in those few instances where the issuance of a prerogative writ would be effectively nugatory. It is not obvious in this case that the implementation of the Order even at this late stage will not have some influence over the mitigative measures that may be taken to ameliorate any deleterious environmental impact from the dam on an area of federal jurisdiction.
Per Stevenson J. (dissenting): The Federal Court of Appeal erred in interfering with the motions judge's discretion to refuse the prerogative remedy. The court was clearly wrong in overruling his conclusion on the question of delay. The common law has always imposed a duty on an applicant to act promptly in seeking prerogative relief. Given the enormity of the project and the interests at stake, it was unreasonable for the respondent Society to wait 14 months before challenging the Minister of Transport's approval. It is impossible to conclude that Alberta was not prejudiced by the delay. The legal proceedings in the Alberta courts brought by the respondent and others need not have been taken into account by the motions judge. These proceedings were separate and distinct from the relief sought in this case and were irrelevant to the issues at hand. The present action centres on the constitutionality and applicability of the Guidelines Order. It raises new and different issues. In determining whether he should exercise his discretion against the respondent, the motions judge was obliged to look only at those factors which he considered were directly connected to the application before him. Interference with his exercise of discretion is not warranted unless it can be said with certainty that he was wrong in doing what he did. The test has not been met in this case.
Per Lamer C.J. and La Forest, L'Heureux-Dubé, Sopinka, Gonthier, Cory, McLachlin and Iacobucci JJ.: It is a proper case for awarding costs on a solicitor-client basis to the respondent, given the Society's circumstances and the fact that the federal Ministers were joined as appellants even though they did earlier not seek leave to appeal to this Court.
Per Stevenson J. (dissenting): The appellants should not be called upon to pay costs on a solicitor and client basis. There is no justification in departing from our own general rule that a successful party should recover costs on the usual party and party basis. Public interest groups must be prepared to abide by the same principles as apply to other litigants and be prepared to accept some responsibility for the costs.
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