The Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of the Impact Assessment Act

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Supreme Court considers constitutionality of Impact Assessment Act

Supreme Court of Canada hearings on the constitutionality of the Impact Assessment Act begin today.

For two days, the Attorney General of Canada and the Attorney General of Alberta will present their arguments regarding the constitutionality of the Impact Assessment Act, also known by its bill number: C- 69.

It is the final stage of a legal clash between the federal government and the province that began in 2019 when the law received royal assent. This act changes, among other things, the environmental assessment process.

Alberta says the law infringes on provincial jurisdiction over natural resources enshrined in the Constitution. The federal government, for its part, considers, among other things, that its law does not go beyond the scope of its jurisdiction on environmental issues.

We are convinced that it is constitutional, said federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson last May when the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the province.

Four out of five justices ruled the law unconstitutional because, in their view, the federal government's legislative authority over the environment is not unilateral.

The fifth judge of the Court of Appeal determined in her dissenting opinion that the law is constitutional. In particular, she raised the need for cooperation between the provincial and federal governments on climate change.

Alberta has the support of a few provinces such as Ontario and Saskatchewan, but also some First Nations and organizations, such as the Indian Resource Council, an Aboriginal group dedicated to the development of natural resources.

This law gives the federal government a veto over exploration and development activities and it is unfair, says Stephen Buffalo, president of the Indian Resource Council. He also maintains that the groups representing the natives were not consulted during the drafting of the bill.

We want environmental issues to be taken into account, however, the First Nations who work [in the natural resources sector] must be consulted to protect our rights , he explains, adding that we must take into account the economic impact that can affect our communities.

The federal government is not alone in this constitutional battle. First Nations and environmental groups support the Impact Assessment Act.

According to David Wright, associate professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Calgary, this standoff between the federal government and Alberta will have positive consequences for the country. We can say that this cause is only a tragic act of political theater, but in the long term, this kind of exchange helps to clarify the law.

David Wright is also one of the legal representatives of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

In addition, the province's premier, Danielle Smith, regrets that Judge Russell Brown is not participating in the proceedings due to a conduct complaint filed against him in January.

A native of Vancouver, Justice Brown made his career in Alberta before being appointed judge of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2015. It is a pity that he is not not here for that, said Danielle Smith during her radio show.

The judges of the Supreme Court who will be present will hear the testimony of about thirty speakers. Hearings will end on Wednesday.

With information from Elise von Scheel

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