Gerard V. La Forest and the Uncertain Greening of Canadian Public Law

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Justice LaForest, R. v. Crown Zellerbach Canada Ltd, Friends of the Oldinan River Society v. Canada (Minister of Transport), R. v. HydroQuebec, Judicial Contributions


This tribute essay concentrates on Justice La Forest's contributions to Canadian public law in three leading environmental cases. The first was R. v. Crown Zellerbach Canada Ltd.,' where the issue was the constitutionality of federal legislation on marine pollution that applied to the dumping of material into provincial waters by a provincial undertaking. While agreeing with his colleagues that marine pollution was a matter on which the federal government could legislate, La Forest J. wrote a provocative dissent to the ruling of the court that marine pollution came within Parliament's residual authority to legislate on peace, order and good government (POGG). The second case was Friends of the Oldinan River Society v. Canada (Minister of Transport) in which La Forest J. wrote the opinion for a nearly unanimous court. It upheld the authority of the federal government to require federal departments and agencies to conduct environmental assessments before exercising regulatory powers or committing federal spending in relation to provincial projects. The third case was R. v. HydroQuebec, in which a razor-thin majority agreed with La Forest J. that the federal power over criminal law authorized the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 19994 (CEPA), which created a broad regulatory framework for the manufacture, importation, sale, use and disposal of toxic substances.