Wawa News – This legal action is being advanced by three Ontario First Nations. It focuses on the refusal by the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks to order an Environmental Assessment (EA) or impose conditions on the Gordon Cosens Forest Management Plan (FMP). At issue is whether conditions for sustainability are met and consultation with First Nations has been done properly for the 20,000 square km area. The First Nations say the answer to both questions is no.
The matter involves forestry in Treaty No. 9, the area known as “Height of Land Treaty” where all waters flow north to James Bay and Hudson Bay. Chapleau Cree First Nation, Missanabie Cree First Nation and Brunswick House First Nation have called this their homeland since long before Confederacy and the forming of Ontario.
Each First Nation has several Sustainable Forest Licences (SFLs) overlapping their respective territories. For decades, they have attempted to find ways to achieve a more equal and full participation in forestry and forest management – an industry with a far-reaching industrial footprint and worth over $15B. They are seeking to be partners in ensuring that the forests remain healthy in the long-term, and Ontario’s forest industry is sustainable.
On August 31, the First Nations launched a Judicial Review of a May 2020 decision to refuse their request for an EA. It is a significant challenge to Ontario’s recently approved 10-year FMP for the Gordon Cosens Forest Management Unit (FMU). In June 2020, the Ford Government revoked the Declaration Order and amended Environmental Assessment Act Regulation 334 to expressly exempt Crown forest management from EA and eliminate the former Declaration Order conditions. The Ontario EA regime has been further diminished by the July 2020 Omnibus Bill 197, COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020 (see Schedule 6), which makes major amendments to the Environmental Assessment Act.
“Our efforts to engage with Ontario have not worked, and the current approach to forestry in Ontario is resulting in the death of the boreal forest by a thousand cuts,” said Chief St. Denis (Brunswick House First Nation). “Ontario’s must work hand in hand with us to stop the damage and create a new approach. Removing the Declaration Order and EA protections during a pandemic is wrong. We need a proactive government that will collaborate with us until we all see change and more sustainable forestry practices on the land where we live.”