Role of the Courts
The role of the court system in Canada varies. Due to the numerous jurisdictions and different government levels involved, the courts are often asked to intervene to settle jurisdictional issues. Interpreting legislation is a key role played by the court system. Courts are also instrumental in applying the law to environmental disputes when individuals launch civil suits. Tort Law is often used in cases of environmental damage. Some torts that are often used in environmental cases are nuisance and negligence. Often the principle of strict liability applies in environmental actions i.e., the very fact that the violation of an environmental law or regulation exists will mean that there can be no defence. In these civil cases, the plaintiff can seek damages for harm done and/or additional redress, such as an injunction which is a court order to stop someone from doing something.
Tort Laws and the Environment
The Tort Law of nuisance arises when someone unreasonably interferes with or disrupts the use or enjoyment of your property. For example, loud noise, smoke, water pollution, and odours that disturb the use and enjoyment of your property may be causes for a private nuisance civil action. A public nuisance occurs when a whole group is affected by an action. The common remedies for nuisance are monetary compensation and/or an injunction to stop the nuisance.
In negligence cases, reasonable care must be evident in order to avoid causing injury. To be entitled to compensation, the plaintiff must show that the defendant did not live up to the standard of care and that they should have anticipated the resulting damage. Evidence of physical harm or property damage must be demonstrated for compensation. Determining a reasonable standard and proving that the defendant should have foreseen the damages are difficult issues to prove in environmental cases.
In strict liability cases, the defendant is responsible for damages and loss caused by his/her acts or omissions, regardless of culpability. To avoid liability, the defendant must prove that all reasonable care was taken to avoid the damages.
1. Re-read through the content section regarding torts and provide an example of how each of these torts could be used in environmental law. You may want to review the Environmental Bill of Rights.