Ontario’s Neonicotinoid Law Survives Appeal

In October 2015 I reported on how Ontario’s neonicotinoid law, which dramatically reduces the number of acres planted with corn and soybean seeds coated with a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, was to remain in place despite a challenge to that law by the Grain Farmers of Ontario (“GFO”).

As you probably know, there are strong links between neonicotinoids and bee colony collapses, and neonicotinoids are known as being toxic to bees.

In that post, I referenced the fact that the GFO was “reviewing its legal options”, and the GFO ultimately opted to appeal the Ontario Supreme Court’s decision.

Well today, I’m pleased to report that the appeal was heard, and dismissed, by the Ontario Court of Appeal (the “Court”). For a full review of the decision, just click here.

At the appeal, the GFO raised two issues. It submitted that the motion judge erred in finding that:

(1) Ontario Regulation 139/15 made under the Pesticides Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. P.11 (“the Regulation”) does not limit the farmers’ property rights; and

(2) the relief sought is not the determination of rights through the interpretation of a regulation.

In dismissing the appeal, the Court did find that the Regulation narrows the farmers’ range of legally permitted options of treated seeds, and so affects the farmers’ rights. However, the limitation of a right does not, standing alone, create a justiciable issue (an issue that can be tried in a court of law).

The GFO argued that the justiciable issue in this case was found in r. 14.05(3)(d) of the Regulation, which provides:

“(3) A proceeding may be brought by application where these rules authorize the commencement of a proceeding by application or where the relief claimed is,

(d) the determination of rights that depend on the interpretation of a deed, will, contract or other instrument, or on the interpretation of a statute, order in council, regulation or municipal by-law or resolution;”

However, the Court noted that this rule was a procedural rule, and is not a mechanism whereby a person could simply challenge the wisdom or fairness of a governmental action. The Court agreed with the reasoning of the motion judge, citing the Alberta Court of Appeal in Trang v. Alberta (Edmonton Remand Centre) which provided:

“Private litigants are not entitled to use the courts as an indirect method of altering public policy decisions, especially those involving the expenditure of public funds. Just because a private party has a sincere concern about the validity of a public policy does not entitle him or her to litigate its legality: Canadian Council of Churches v. Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration). As a corollary, the superior courts are not to use their powers to grant generally worded declarations as a method of controlling or influencing governmental operations.”

In the result, Ontario’s neonicotinoid law remains, and its bees are safer for another day.

James Early