Feds sued over failure to protect killer whales

Case could determine future of Canada’s at-risk species

MEDIA RELEASE  June 15, 2010

VANCOUVER – Conservation groups, represented by Ecojustice, are back in Federal Court today after launching a lawsuit against Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) over the protection of B.C.’s resident killer whales.

If successful, the case will ensure stronger legal protection for all of Canada’s endangered species.

The coalition, made up of nine leading environmental groups, alleges that DFO failed to legally protect all aspects of critical habitat for southern and northern resident killer whales. Critical habitat is defined as the habitat endangered or threatened species need to survive and recover.

The government’s own science shows that for resident killer whales, critical habitat is more than just a place on a map – it includes clean and quiet marine waters and available salmon, their primary food source.

“There is no ‘later’ for these whales,” said Margot Venton, Ecojustice staff lawyer. “Our killer whales need legal protection of their critical habitat. They can’t live in a polluted ocean without fish.”

In 2008, DFO issued an unlawful protection statement that sought to safeguard habitat using voluntary guidelines and non-binding laws and policies. In 2009, Ottawa issued an order for resident killer whale critical habitat protection. The order however, fails to address the biological aspects of critical habitat, including water quality, noise pollution and declining salmon stocks. The coalition alleges that the government has unlawfully interpreted its own law and breached the terms of the Species At Risk Act.

The resident killer whales are made up of two distinct populations that live in B.C. waters year-round. The southern resident killer whales are listed as “endangered” with about 85 members remaining, while approximately 235 “threatened” northern residents survive. Both species are listed under Canada’s Species At Risk Act, which requires DFO to create plans for their recovery and protection.

Ecojustice represents David Suzuki Foundation, Dogwood Initiative, Environmental Defence, Greenpeace, Georgia Strait Alliance, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Raincoast Conservation, Sierra Club of BC, and the Wilderness Committee in this lawsuit, which has implications for the more than 400 endangered and threatened species listed under the Species At Risk Act.

The hearing begins today at 9:30 a.m. in the Federal Court of Canada (701 West Georgia Street, Room 702). Proceedings are expected to last five days, and will take place June 15-18 and June 22.

For multimedia requests or other media inquiries, please contact:
Kimberly Shearon, Communications Associate | Ecojustice
604-685-5618 x242

For comment, please contact:

Devon Page, Ecojustice | Executive Director
604-685-5618 x233

Gwen Barlee, Wilderness Committee | Policy Director
604-683-8220 or 604-202-0322

Charles Campbell, Dogwood Initiative | Communications Director

Chris Genovali, Raincoast Conservation | Executive Director
250-655-1229 x225

Susan Howatt, Sierra Club BC | Campaigns Director

Sarah King, Greenpeace Canada | Oceans Campaigner

Misty MacDuffee, Raincoast Conservation | Biologist

Scott Wallace, David Suzuki Foundation | Fisheries Analyst

Christianne Wilhelmson, Georgia Strait Alliance | Executive Director
250-753-3459 or 604-862 7579

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.