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December 22, 2017

Navigating Environmental Risk: When and How to Apply the Precautionary Principle

The interpretation and application of the precautionary principle in Canada is far from settled.  The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized one version of the precautionary principle: where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

However, since its adoption by the Supreme Court, the precautionary principle has been interpreted and applied inconsistently in Canadian legislation and by Canadian courts and tribunals. Uncertainty and inconsistency in the precautionary principle’s interpretation and application has caused some courts and tribunals to conclude that the principle is too vague to be of use.  This is problematic for the public, industry participants and regulators alike because there is confusion about when and how the principle should be applied to large projects and to protect the environment.

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