PANNA: Canada's Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Local Pesticide Use


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Canada's Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Local Pesticide Use
July 27, 2001

In a landmark decision hailed by environmentalists as "a great step forward" for the health of Canadians, the country's Supreme Court ruled in June, 2001 that municipalities across Canada have the right to ban pesticide use on public and private property. The court stated that the Montreal suburb of Hudson in the province of Quebec had been within its rights when it became the first Canadian municipality to outlaw the use of pesticides on lawns in 1991.

"We're thrilled," said Angela Rickman, head of the pesticide reduction campaign at the Sierra Club of Canada, a national environmental group. Noting that municipalities across Canada had been waiting this decision, she added that "A number of other communities will now be able to move ahead without worrying about negative financial consequences. I think it's a great step forward for the health of Canadians."

The case had been in Canada's courts for years. In May 1991, Hudson passed a by-law banning the cosmetic (purely aesthetic) use of pesticides within the town's limits in an effort to protect the health of Hudson residents. Two lawn pesticide companies, Chemlawn and Spraytech, were caught spraying pesticides and were fined $300, the maximum amount under the regulation.

Reacting to the fine, the pesticide companies challenged the municipality's authority "to forbid an activity legally authorized by a federal or provincial law." The local Quebec court ruled in favor of Hudson but the companies appealed to the Quebec Superior Court, the provincial court, that ended up supporting the earlier decision. The companies continued their battle -- one that would also affect larger chemical manufacturing and distributing companies -- and pushed the case to Canada's Supreme Court in November 1999. The case was heard in December, 2000 and on June 28, 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled in favor of the Hudson by-law.

The decision goes further than simply upholding Hudson's bylaws. While upholding the right of municipalities to protect the health of their residents against environmental threats, the decision does not refer exclusively to pesticides, which opens up the potential for communities to implement by-laws prohibiting or restricting other potentially dangerous activities or substances. It endorsed the idea that local politicians have a special role to play in safeguarding the health of their constituents by saying that protecting the environment requires action by all levels of government.

The judgement quoted the "precautionary principle" -- a concept in international law arguing that it is better to be safe than sorry -- in upholding the Hudson decision. Environmental lawyers say that this is the first time that the Canadian court has used the precautionary principle to support a domestic legal and policy question.

Banning or restricting pesticide use at the local level could be a growing trend. In Canada since 1991, 36 towns across the province of Quebec as well as the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia have enacted bans similar to Hudson's. Many other towns have limited or restricted pesticide use on municipally-owned properties. Following the ruling, Quebec's Environment Minister has said that he is "seriously considering" a province-wide ban on pesticide use for strictly aesthetic purposes.

Sources: Angela Rickman, Sierra Club of Canada; Reuters, "Canada Supreme Court Allows Ban on Lawn Pesticides," June 28, 2001; Globe and Mail "The tools to keep pesticides in check" June 29, 2001.

Contact: Sierra Club of Canada National Office, 412-1 Nicholas St., Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 7B7, Canada; phone (613) 241-4611; fax (613) 241-2292; e-mail sierra@web.ca; Web site http://www.sierraclub.ca/national.

PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don't always get coverage by the mainstream media. It's produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.

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