The 2007 Public Health Complaint
In the summer of 2007, the public and local government suddenly became aware that after a 15 years of no logging on public lands, Western Forest Products (WFP) was about to begin operations in the Chapman Creek watershed. An immediate uproar ensued, featuring impromptu blockades and large public demonstrations.
On July 19, WFP filed an injunction against five individual protesters, in order to stop local citizens from blockading the access road to their cutting area. These individuals were dubbed The Watershed 5, and a Watershed Defense Fund was established by concerned residents to pay for their legal representation. The SCCA did not organize these protests or blockades. As a registered charity, we do not participate in civil disobedience or advocate illegal activities.
What the SCCA did was to coordinate a citizen's complaint to the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) in its capacity as a "local board of health". (Read about the background to the complaint.) With the assistance of West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL), we advised the board that it had a legal right to terminate activities that could result in a health hazard.
A public hearing into the complaint was held in August by the regional district board, acting as a local board of health. (View a powerpoint summary of our presentation.) The local board of heath found that the complaint had merit, and on August 11, 2007, they issued an order against Western Forest Products curtailing logging activity adjacent to water courses and on steep slopes.
This was a groundbreaking ruling. It enjoyed overwhelming local support and provoked a storm of media coverage. Our Executive Director was quoted in provincial and national newspapers, interviewed on radio and TV, and appeared on YouTube.
WFP responded by going to court for a stay of that order. Six individuals and the SCRD were named in this case. (The SCCA was represented by three of the individual complainants.) Justice Butler, in his decision, partially upheld the Health Board order.
An appeal of this decision went to the BC Supreme Court on September 10 to 13, 2007, and in October a ruling came down in favour of WFP, effectively removing all logging restrictions. But Butler's October decision did uphold the right of the Health Board to convene on this matter (leaving the door open to other communities to use the same tactic). The most positive aspect of Judge Butler's decision is that he recognized that it is "anomalous" for the purveyor of water (the regional government) not to have authority over land uses that can adversely impact water quality. We have prepared a detailed analysis of the decision and identified grounds for appeal.
The six individual respondents in the case have given Notice of Appeal In addition, the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, represented by EcoJustice, has requested status as an Intervener.
The long term effects of this landmark public health complaint on provincial policy are yet to be seen. Logging companies are reportedly demanding that the government clarify their rights to log in community watersheds. And the Ministry of Health is under considerable pressure to take more authority over watersheds. Certainly, a new technical review panel has been convened under the Drinking Water Protection Act and the government has created an inter-agency drinking water protection team.
Recent developments have put the future of our appeal in doubt. A new Health Act for BC is now before the legislature and will very likely will be passed into law. The provisions of law that supported our appeal have not survived into the new Act. It is doubtful that citizens will have the right to trigger mandatory investigations by health officials under the new Act.
Also of note, it appears that the Chapman and Gray watersheds are not threatened by logging at this time. This relates to the Sechelt Indian Band's selection of this area for "interim protection" during land use negotiations.
- Last Updated: Thursday, 05 June 2008 15:49