Ontario Environmental Protection Committee agrees to hear environmental law, land claims case

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Ontario Environmental Defense Committee Chairman Paul Stolpe has agreed to a hearing in front of the Ontario Court of Appeal on whether to accept a land claims lawsuit by an Indigenous landowner against the province for environmental damage caused by its land-clearing program.

The hearing will be held on February 14, 2018 at 9:00 a.m. in the Ontario Superior Court in Toronto.

Stolpe had been on a mission to get the case heard.

He had been trying to get a hearing on whether the government could recover environmental damage from the province’s environmental protection department and its land acquisition process.

The case has already been heard in the Supreme Court of Canada.

The court ruled in 2014 that the landowner had been harmed by the provincial government’s land acquisition program for which the government paid compensation of $10 million in 2017.

In a recent ruling in that case, the court said the landholder’s claims against the government for environmental damages “are not based on an objectively legitimate and bona fide concern.”

The landowner in this case, an Ojibway man named John Houghton, had been in the process of acquiring land from the Ontario Land Acquisition Agency, a Crown corporation, when he died in 2009.

The Ojebway Nation had a claim against the provincial land acquisition agency in the late 1960s for land contamination.

In its decision in Houghtons case, in 2014, the Supreme the court held that the government had not shown that the Ojibertts land was contaminated because it was a “natural environment,” not a natural resource.

“The court has concluded that the plaintiffs do not have a legitimate claim to compensation,” the Supreme court said.

The province was awarded $20 million in compensation in Hougtons case.

The Ontario Environmental Defence Committee (OEDC) had been advocating for the case to be heard before the Supreme Courts of Canada because the ODC had represented a number of Indigenous land owners and the government was not being truthful about the scope of its remediation program.

“This is a case that has been raised before the courts, we’ve been talking about it, and now we’re seeing the government do it,” Stolp said.

“This is the first time that a First Nation has been involved in a remediation case before a Supreme Court.”

Stolp’s organization, the Ontario Environmental Defender, is part of the group of Indigenous groups that are suing the provincial Environmental Protection Department over the remediation of the Ochapow Lake watershed.

The group also has filed a claim with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, alleging that the province is violating the rights of the Indigenous people who live on land acquired through the province land acquisition system.

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