Protection of the Copper Redhorse’s Critical Habitat
On January 7, 2021, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and the Centre québécois du droit de l’environnement (CQDE) filed an application for judicial review in Federal Court against the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
The plaintiffs have risen to the defence of the copper redhorse, an endangered species of fish. Through this recourse, they are demanding the implementation of subsection 58(5) of the Species at Risk Act.
This subsection provides that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans must implement a mechanism for the protection of the critical habitat of a designated species at risk within 180 days after the species’ recovery strategy has been included in the public registry.
The federal government is contravening its own Species at Risk Act with respect to the critical habitat of the copper redhorse, a fish species found in only one place in the world, in Quebec.
In fact, the Minister is more than eight years late in meeting her obligation to activate measures to prohibit the destruction of the copper redhorse’s critical habitat.
On June 20, 2012, the Minister put the copper redhorse recovery strategy in the public registry of species at risk. Under the legislation, the federal Minister responsible for Fisheries and Oceans should have issued a ministerial order to protect the critical habitat of this species no later than 180 days after this date, i.e. December 17, 2012. This ministerial order would completely prohibit the destruction of “components” of this habitat, which has been defined by federal scientists. To date, no action has been taken by the Minister.
With this application, CPAWS and the CQDE are seeking an order directing the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to implement a mechanism to protect the critical habitat of the copper redhorse, as prescribed by the Species at Risk Act. In addition, they are seeking a declaratory judgment recognizing that the Minister has acted unlawfully by failing to do so within the prescribed time frame.
The copper redhorse (Moxostoma hubbsi) is the only fish with an exclusive range in Quebec. Its range is limited to a freshwater section of the St. Lawrence River between Lake St. Louis and Lake St. Pierre and a few of its tributaries, including the Richelieu River. The protection of the copper redhorse’s critical habitat is essential to ensure its survival and recovery.
CPAWS and the CQDE hope for a quick resolution of the matter. A few recent decisions, such as in the chorus frog case, show that the courts are now taking the protection of endangered species very seriously.