Section 11 of the Environmental Bill of Rights, S.O 1993, c. 28 (the “EBR”) requires the Minister of the Environment to “take every reasonable step to ensure that the ministry statement of environmental values (the “SEV”) is considered whenever decisions that might significantly affect the environment are made in the ministry.” Hanna submitted that s. 11 of the EBR establishes a condition precedent for the decision by the minister to recommend promulgation of the regulation, and a breach of that condition renders his decision, and the regulation, ultra vires (or outside the authority of the minister). In particular, the ministry’s statement of environmental values sets out principles the ministry will apply in developing Acts, regulations and policies. One of those principles is that “the ministry uses a precautionary science-based approach in its decision making to protect human health and the environment.” Hanna contended that the minister failed to consider that “precautionary principle.”
In the end, the three-member panel of the Divisional Court found that the minister did comply with the process mandated by the EBR when he prescribed a setback requirement of 550 metres:
There was a full public consultation and a consideration of the views of interested parties. The ministerial review included science-based evidence, such as reports of the World Health Organization and the opinions of acoustical engineering experts. Cognizant of the possible health concerns the minister decided the minimum 550 metre setback was adequate. He made that decision knowing the adequacy of the minimum setback could be challenged in any particular case before a specialized tribunal. In the context of the broad policy issues at play, the alternative protections provided by the Environmental Review Tribunal and the absence of clear evidence the 550 metre setback requirement is necessarily insufficient we find that the minister did comply with the requirement in s. 11 of the EBR, notwithstanding the “precautionary principle” in the statement of environmental values. The precautionary principle does not preclude the decision that was taken by the minister.Read the decision at: Hanna v. AGO.