Canada at a legal crossroads on future of Orcas and other species at risk

Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Vancouver, Canada
A groundbreaking lawsuit about the future of resident fish-eating killer whales and the responsibility of the federal government to enforce the Species at Risk Act (SARA) is headed back to court today.
“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is trying to get the case dismissed to avoid having to live up to the spirit and the letter of SARA when it comes to protecting the critical habitat of killer whales,” said Kathy Heise of the Raincoast Conservation Society. “This position has forced our organizations to step in and use the courts to protect this iconic species.”

The order, issued under SARA, addresses geophysical threats to BC's resident killer whales critical habitat but leaves the whales unprotected from pollution, threats to their food source, boat traffic and acoustic disturbances. The DFO says it will deal with these threats with a "trial and error approach".

“It is inexcusable that the government feels that "trial and error" is a responsible approach for the future of the Orca. It is exactly this type of laissez faire attitude towards the survival of this species which has hardened our resolve to press the government to explain how it will protect its critical habitat,” said IFAW Campaign Manager Barbara Cartwright.

Ecojustice will be arguing to keep the case alive on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation, Dogwood Initiative, Environmental Defence, Georgia Strait Alliance, Greenpeace, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Raincoast Conservation Society, Western Canada Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club of BC.

“This case will have serious repercussions for species across Canada. The lackadaisical approach the government has employed does not bode well for the dozens of SARA listed species that are still waiting for recovery plans and federal protection,” said Aaron Freeman of Environmental Defence.

Along with the northern and southern resident killer whales, other populations at risk include the North Atlantic/Pacific right, sei, Pacific/Atlantic blue, northern bottlenose, and fin whales as well as several of Canada’s beluga whale populations.

“Unless DFO takes this issue seriously, the Vancouver Canuck Orca mascot will be a posthumous memorial rather than a celebration of an iconic Canadian species,” said Sarah King of Greenpeace.

The hearing will take place in Vancouver at 701 W. Georgia Street at 11am Pacific Time.

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