Unloading in the evening

Unloading in the evening

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Ontario Divisional Court rules conservation authority was wrong to apply general prohibition on development

The Gs purchased land in 2008 with a view to building a home.  Their lot, along with neighbouring 10 acre lots on which homes had already been constructed, was originally subdivided in the 1960s.  Although there was a shed, a garden and a driveway on their lot, no house had yet been built on the Gs' lot.

Long after the subdivision of the lots in the 1960s, the Gs' land was designated as a part of an environmentally protected area.  The reason for the designation was the small drainage ditch that crossed their land behind the area where they proposed to build a house.  That drainage ditch proceeds through the Gs' neighbour's land (where a house had already been built), through a culvert under a public road, and eventually to a creek that is a branch of the Nottawasaga River, the watershed of which is subject to the jurisdiction of the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority (the "NVCA").

The NVCA refused to grant permission to the Gs to build their house on the fringe of a potential floodplain regulated by the NVCA.  The Gs made an application for permission to build in 2009, and provided extensive evidence establishing the lack of any adverse impact of their proposed building on flood control.  Notwithstanding this evidence, the NVCA turned down the Gs' application.  The Gs then appealed to the Deputy Mining and Lands Commissioner (the "Tribunal").  The Tribunal turned down the appeal.  The Gs then appealed to the Divisional Court.

The Divisional Court found that the CA and the Tribunal had misconstrued the law as providing for a prohibition on development within the CA's area of jurisdiction.  The Court noted: "In the present case, the public interest which the NVCA was authorized to supervise was that of flood control - this limited but important jurisdiction was not intended to be wielded to assert wider jurisdictional authority than the Legislator had conferred and it certainly does not provide a general prohibition against development."

The Divisional Court allowed the Gs appeal and directed the approval of the proposed development without conditions and without a rehearing of the application:

"Subsection 3(1) of Ont. Reg. 172/06 (hereafter the “NVCA Regulation”) required the Tribunal to assess whether the proposed development would affect flood control and several other factors.  Instead, the Tribunal interpreted the law to impose a general policy prohibiting development subject only to an exceptional discretion, and the Tribunal placed a heavy if not impossible onus on the Gs to justify an exceptional departure from the general prohibition.  In so doing, the Tribunal made the same error of law that this court corrected in the case of 3437400 Canada Inc. v. Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, (2012), 354 D.L.R. (4th) 756 (Ont. Div. Ct.). Properly interpreted, the NVCA Regulation does not prohibit development in designated areas; it only prohibits developments that are found to affect flood control or one of the other listed criteria (none of which were engaged in the immediate case). 
"The Tribunal (and the NVCA) incorporated within its analysis of flood control a concern for safety should there be a flood at the property, but on the evidence, the proposed development will not have any effect on flood control as such, and the evidence revealed only a very low risk to safety, even in the event of a hypothetical extreme flood of rare severity.  The Gs’ application ought to have been approved based on the uncontradicted evidence before the Tribunal, and this court has the appellate jurisdiction to grant an unconditional approval.  The Gs have other regulatory hurdles to cross before they can get final approval to complete their home.  Neither the interests of justice nor efficiency and economy of proceedings would justify requiring them to proceed through a third hearing on this matter six years after they commenced the application process." 
Read the decision at: Gilmor et al. v Nottawasaga Valley and The Township of Amaranth.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Hard to believe - December 25th, the grass is green, the wheat is green, and it's 8 C and sunny.  Have a very Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

COTTFN files for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court in Enbridge Line 9B case

In October, I posted about the Federal Court of Appeal decision to deny an appeal by the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation ("COTTFN") from the decision of the National Energy Board ("NEB") approving the Enbridge Line 9B Reversal and Line 9 Capacity Expansion Project application.  COTTFN has now filed an application for leave to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal's decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.  Given that there was a dissenting opinion from one of the FCA judges and that the subject matter of the appeal concerns the role of administrative tribunals in relation to the Crown's duty to consult with and accommodate First Nations, there would seem to be a good chance that leave will be granted.

Monday, December 21, 2015

When the Drainage Act and Conservation Authorities Clash

In a case decided in September, 2015, the Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal examined the interplay between the Drainage Act and conservation authorities in Ontario.  The matter involved a farmer who wanted to drain cleared, cultivated agricultural land through a low, wet bush and a cattle-tramped low run that happened to contain 28 minnows.  The farmer initiated a process under the Drainage Act, and was then assessed a bill of nearly $50,000 for an "environmental impact study" that was allegedly required for a permit from the local conservation authority ("CA").

Under the Drainage Act, a conservation authority or government may request an "environmental appraisal" for a new drain, but the party making the request is responsible for the cost.  In this case, the farmer did not request the "environmental impact study" and did not apply for any permits from the CA.  However, as the Tribunal noted, "the CA took over jurisdiction, admittedly ignorant of certain parts of the Drainage Act.  The CA prosecuted its own CA mandate over the farmer and his drain request with great earnestness, if not zealously."

In the hearing of the farmer's appeal of the assessed cost, the CA argued essentially that the Tribunal had no jurisdiction over it.  The CA candidly pleaded its ignorance of the drainage laws and, furthermore, that the CA's statutes are more recent and consequently take precedence.  Lastly, the CA argued that its work related to an "environmental impact study" and not an "environmental appraisal".

The Tribunal found that it did not have jurisdiction over the CA in this case.  It also found that the Municipality involved (which sought to put the cost of the "environmental impact study" on the landowner) should bear the cost of the environmental study.

In examining the jurisdiction issue, the Tribunal noted that the CA had notice of the Drainage Act process initiated by the farmer, but waited more than a year later to demand an "environmental impact study" under its own legislative regime.  The CA did not request an "environmental appraisal" under the Drainage Act.  The tribunal concluded the following:
What the Tribunal has ascertained under law (rather than equity) is that there are 2 parallel regulatory schemes.  Neither is inconsistent with the other.  Technically phrased: obedience to one does not necessitate disobedience to the other.  The CA has the right to request an environmental appraisal under the Drainage Act or its own regulatory scheme.  There is no overt or even nuanced conflict between the regulatory regimes.  Even though the CA dithered regarding the petition process under the Drainage Act, it could still invoke the processes under the Conservation Authorities Act.
 The tribunal is acutely aware that this interpretation allows the CA to potentially circumvent or thwart the Drainage Act processes.  It makes the petition process, especially section 6 moot.  That means the CA can avoid the intrinsic balance of costs and demands legislatively fixed in the Drainage Act with over a century of experience.  Then again the Tribunal expects that the knowledge of this decision will become wide spread amongst the drainage and conservation communities.  Ignorance and indifference can no longer be pled.  Perhaps as is the case with maintenance of drains, the drainage and conservation communities can establish policies that are respectful of both mandates.
Having no jurisdiction over the CA, the Tribunal then decided the issue of responsibility for the cost of the environmental report between the farmer and the municipality.  The Tribunal ordered that the municipality bear the full cost of the report, finding that the excessive cost could have been avoided if the municipality had properly facilitated the drainage proposal.

There was a dissenting opinion from one of the members of Tribunal.  That member would have found that the Tribunal did have jurisdiction over the CA and would have ordered the full cost of the report to be borne by the CA.

Read the decision at: Darmar-Tamlin Municipal Drain (RE).