Past Projects

Grassy Mountain Coal Project

A proposed coal mine near the Crowsnest Pass presented a threat to Alberta’s water supply and the protection of two populations of the endangered Westslope Cutthroat Trout.

Why is the Clinic involved?

Our client was a national environmental protection non-profit who had concerns about cumulative impacts of the serious risks the mine would present to endangered species.

What has the Clinic done so far?

We assisted the client with commenting on the addendums to the environmental impact assessment and provided full representation at the environmental impact assessment hearing in late 2020. The joint review panel determined the mine was not in the public interest and rejected the applications in June 2021.

Surface Disposal of Radioactive Waste in Alberta

In July 2016, Alberta Environment amended the license of an Alberta landfill to authorize the acceptance of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORMs) as waste for surface disposal. Our client is a recognized expert in the management and disposal of NORMs waste. In November 2014, Alberta Environment ruled our client was not directly affected by the then-proposed landfill authorization, and thus would not be entitled to participate or otherwise contribute to the environmental impact assessment of the landfill disposal. In October 2016, the Alberta Environmental Appeals Board likewise ruled our client was not directly affected by the landfill authorization, and thus dismissed our client’s attempt to force a regulatory hearing on the landfill authorization.

Why is the Clinic involved?

This is the first authorization for the acceptance of NORMs as waste for surface disposal in Alberta. There are significant public health and environmental risks associated with this disposal, and Alberta Environment has not publicly disclosed whether or to what extent these risks were considered in the environmental impact assessment process. The absence of meaningful opportunities for public participation in the environmental impact assessment process and the narrow entitlement to challenge Alberta Environment decisions are systemic problems in Alberta.

What has the Clinic done so far?

In January 2017 we filed two Originating Applications seeking judicial review. One judicial review application is a challenge to the July 2016 Alberta Environment landfill authorization. The other judicial review application is a challenge to the October 2016 decision of the Alberta Environmental Appeals Board to dismiss our clients standing to appeal that authorization. We asked the Court to rule that the Board’s narrow view of who may challenge an Alberta Environment decision is inconsistent with the objectives of the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and the rule of law. The Alberta Court of Queen's bench dismissed our application in a written decision: 2018 ABQB 911, our client chose to appeal the decision to the Alberta Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal granted the appeal in Normtek Radiation Services Ltd v Alberta Environmental Appeal Board, 2020 ABCA 456, and rejected the Environmental Appeals Board’s narrow approach to standing. The matter has been returned to the Environmental Appeals Board.

The Alberta Population of Westslope Cutthroat Trout

Westslope Cutthroat Trout are the only species of cutthroat native to Alberta. There are only a handful of genetically pure Westslope Cutthroat Trout populations remaining in Alberta. In 2013 the species was listed as threatened under the Species at Risk Act, and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans issued a recovery strategy for the species in March 2014. The recovery strategy identifies activities that have led to the demise of the Westslope Cutthroat Trout in Alberta, and these activities include logging, mining, dams, off-road vehicle use, road building, and other linear disturbances along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

Why is the Clinic involved?

The clinic has taken an interest in the Westslope Cutthroat Trout as an opportunity to advance species at risk protection law in Canada. The Westslope Cutthroat Trout species is an indicator species for the overall ecological integrity of the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. While there has been some legal success thus far in protecting this species, there is more work to be done. Activities which threaten the Westslope Cutthroat Trout populations and its remaining habitat in Alberta such as clearcut logging, off-road vehicle use, and mineral exploration are ongoing despite the habitat protection order, and cutthroat trout populations continue to decline as government bodies delay necessary action.

What has the clinic done so far?

Our client is an environmental NGO with an established record in advocacy and litigation concerning the protection of species at risk in Alberta. With our assistance, in 2015 the client was successful in legal proceedings to have the Minister issue the Critical Habitat of the Westslope Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkia lewisi) Alberta Population Order, SOR/2015-241 under section 58 of the Species at Risk Act. This Order makes it an offence for any person to destroy any part of the critical habitat set out in the critical habitat order for the Westslope Cutthroat Trout. At the time of its issuance, the Westslope Cutthroat Trout critical habitat order was only the second of such orders to be issued under the Species at Risk Act during the 14 years since its enactment by Parliament in 2002.

Federal officials missed the deadline under the Species at Risk Act to produce an action plan which sets out how the species will be recovered and what actions will be taken in that regard. It appeared that federal officials were unlawfully deferring to Alberta on the designation of new critical habitat and the implementation of measures to protect critical habitat already designated. We filed judicial review T-270-19 in February 2019 seeking an order requiring the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to release an Action Plan for the Westslope Cutthroat. In May 2019 the Minister released a draft action plan for the Westslope cutthroat Trout and we withdrew the judicial review.  We filed another judicial review, T-1926-19, in November 2019 seeking an order requiring the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to finalize the Action Plan for the Westslope Cutthroat and give it legal effect. The Minister finalized the plan and the judicial review was withdrawn in October 2020.

We have filed a series of access to information requests filed with provincial and federal departments responsible for managing the recovery of the Westslope Cutthroat Trout population in Alberta. Some requests revealed that significant research on Westslope Cutthroat Trout has been completed, and have allowed us to piece together a rationale for why federal officials delayed the release of an action plan for the species. Recent record releases show a government policy of failure to enforce habitat protection law, indicating further litigation may be necessary.

Equitable Funding for Transgender Health Care

Proper transgender health care is acknowledged to require surgical procedures, but no public facility that provides final stage gender reassignment surgery (FSGRS) in Canada. All FSGRS procedures are done at a private clinic in Montreal. In 2009, Alberta cut all funding for FSGRS procedures, but then re-established funding on a segregated model that limited the number of patients able to access the medically necessary care they require each year.

Why is the Clinic involved?

Our client is a health care provider who came to us with concerns about whether Alberta’s segregated funding model violates human rights. Transgendered individuals are a distinct minority with unique healthcare needs who have been the subject of discriminatory treatment by Alberta’s healthcare program.

What has the Clinic done so far?

We assisted the client with the filing of a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission by preparing legal argument and submitting an access to information request to help the client build an evidentiary record for the case. After a long delay at the Alberta Human Rights Commission, Alberta Health reformed their funding system for Transgender healthcare and the complaint was withdrawn. Access to Information Requests are still outstanding due to Alberta Health’s understaffing of their access to information office.

Teck Frontier Oilsands Mine

The Teck Frontier Oil Sands Mine Project was a proposed oilsands mine to be located only 30 kilometers south of Wood Buffalo National Park. The Park contains the world’s largest freshwater inland delta, protects the world’s largest free roaming wood bison herd, contains the only nesting area for the endangered whooping crane, and is thought to be the last place on earth where bison and wolves coexist within a natural predator-prey relationship. The proposed mine would have destroyed over 29,000 hectares of threatened caribou habitat. The project was subject to a joint federal-provincial environmental assessment, and hearings were occured in September 2018.

Why is the Clinic involved?

Our client was a national environmental NGO with a mandate on federal protected areas in Canada. The client has concerns the proposed new oilsands mine will adversely impact Wood Buffalo National Park and result in the loss of its World Heritage Site designation. The United Nations has cautioned Canada that development may put the park’s UNESCO status at risk. The clinic was retained to advocate for two of the park’s species: the last wild population of Whooping Crane that migrates back and forth from the park, and the last population of bison and wolves living in a natural predator-prey relationship within its boundaries.

What has the Clinic done so far?

With our assistance, the client retained experts and obtained their opinions and reports. Clinic students combed Teck’s submissions for weaknesses and relevant points of advantage. Clinic lawyers provided full representation at the hearing, including cross examination of Teck’s panel of experts and final argument. The Joint Review Panel report was released in July 2019: the Joint review panel concluded that despite finding that there would be significant environmental impacts that could not be mitigated, the project was in the public interest. The project proponent withdrew their application before federal cabinet made a decision on the project.

Orphaned Oil and Gas Wells in Alberta

In 2015 Redwater Energy was petitioned into bankruptcy and the trustee appointed under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act notified the Alberta Energy Regulator that it would only be taking control of Redwater’s economically viable wells licensed by the Regulator and was disclaiming the uneconomic wells which have significant environmental remediation and reclamation obligations attached to them. The result of the trustee’s position is that the environmental cleanup of the disclaimed wells is left for either the provincial Orphan Well Association or the public. The Alberta Energy Regulator responded by issuing orders requiring the abandonment and remediation of the wells. The trustee refused to comply with the Regulator’s order, and successfully defended its position in Alberta courts.

Why is the Clinic involved?

In recent years, trustees administering the assets of bankrupt oil and gas companies have disclaimed thousands of oil and gas wells with environmental liabilities in Alberta. This is exacerbating existing deficiencies in how Alberta regulates oil and gas well remediation and reclamation. In the context of a bankruptcy, the result is a classic case of privatizing profits and socializing losses. Estimates of the environmental liabilities range anywhere from $300 million to $1 billion. Our client is an organized group of Alberta farmers who believe it is unjust to leave surface landowners or the public with these environmental liabilities.

What has the Clinic done so far?

The Alberta Energy Regulator obtained the permission of the Supreme Court of Canada to hear its case. We assisted the client in obtaining intervener status in the Supreme Court proceedings, and argued on behalf of the client at the Supreme Court in February 2018. We also assisted the client with media relations in the case. A majority at the Supreme Court returned a favorable decision on the case on January 31, 2019: Orphan Well Association v. Grant Thornton Ltd., 2019 SCC 5.

Federal Review of Environmental Assessment Processes

In August 2016, the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change established an expert panel to review federal environmental assessment processes. The panel travelled across Canada to hear from interested persons on the strengths and weaknesses of current practices under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. Our client was a national environmental NGO that advocates for environmental protection in federal protected areas, and requested our assistance in presenting its concerns to the expert panel on how environmental assessments are conducted under CEAA 2012 in the national parks and other federal protected terrestrial and marine areas.

Why was the Clinic involved?

Decisions made by public officials should reflect public objectives such as sustainability and be respectful of Indigenous rights, and therefore it is crucial these decisions are based upon planning and regulatory tools designed to achieve such objectives. Environmental assessment is one such planning tool used to consider the social and environmental impacts of proposed development before it is carried out. Changes made to the federal environmental impact assessment process when CEAA 2012 was enacted have been widely criticized for undermining the effectiveness of the federal environmental impact assessment process, and this review provided a good opportunity to contribute towards a constructive public dialogue on what changes to make.

What did the clinic do?

In the fall of 2016, we assisted the client in its preparations to participate in the environmental assessment panel review. In November 2016, we made in-person legal submissions to the expert panel on behalf of the client in Calgary, and we subsequently filed a written submission with the expert panel on behalf of the client in December. The focus of this written submission was to highlight the absence in CEAA 2012 of any legislated environmental assessment process concerning developments in the national parks, and to provide the panel with evidence and argument to support statutory provisions that will enhance transparency and legal accountability in the federal environmental assessment process. The expert panel’s report ultimately led to the proposal of Bill C-69.

Landlord-Tenant Dispute Resolution

As part of a housing project investigation conducted by Clinic students in the first cohort during early 2016, the Clinic approached the Minister of Service Alberta about addressing noted concerns with the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service [RTDRS] Regulation under the Residential Tenancies Act (Alberta). In response, the Minister included the Clinic in stakeholder discussions about amendments to the RTDRS Regulation held in the fall of 2017.

Why was the Clinic involved?

Residential tenancies legislation in Alberta is landlord friendly and provides less rights to tenants than is the case in other jurisdictions of Canada. The Residential Tenancies Act (Alberta) and its regulations, including the RTDRS Regulation is overdue for law reform, and particularly in relation to how the legislation addresses or fails to address the rights and interests of vulnerable tenants in Alberta.

What did the clinic do?

In October 2016, we met with the Director of the RTDRS to discuss noted concerns with the RTDRS Regulation and how the service is currently administered to resolve landlord-tenant disputes. In November 2016, we hosted a roundtable with representatives from community organizations to discuss concerns with the RTDRS and later that month we forwarded a submission to the Director of the RTDRS with suggested amendments to address concerns with the current service. The Alberta government amended the RTDRS Regulation in April 2017, and we published our review of those amendments on the Faculty of Law blog.

Transport of Horses for Export

Canada exports thousands of horses annually to Asia for slaughter and consumption. A significant number of these horses are raised in feedlots located in Alberta and shipped to Asia from the Calgary International Airport. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for overseeing the transport and care of these horses within Alberta during this shipping process. The Health of Animals Act (Canada) and the Health of Animals Regulations enacted thereunder set out rules governing the transportation and export of these horses. Our client was a local veterinarian with concerns that horses are being transported in a manner that causes them undue suffering and under conditions which do not comply with the rules set out in federal legislation.

Why was the Clinic involved?

The humane treatment of animals is a matter of the public interest. Our client provided us with evidence that existing rules intended to ensure horses are handled and transported in a humane manner are not complied with at the Calgary airport, and expressed concerns that existing federal rules are not in line with international standards for the humane transportation of livestock.

What did the clinic do?

We met with the client in late 2016 and reviewed records obtained under an access to information request. Our research on the matter revealed that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was proposing significant amendments to applicable provisions in the Health of Animals Regulations, and the proposed amendments were open to public comment in early 2017. We worked with the client to formulate submissions on the proposed amendments to the Regulations, and filed those submissions on behalf of the client in February 2017. The focus of this written submission was to highlight the risks inherent in the outcomes-based framework in the proposal and the absence of a meaningful compliance and enforcement program.

The clinic was started with a large and generous donation from the Peacock Foundation. Long-term operation will require further funding. Send us an e-mail if you’re interested in making a donation. Contact Us