Acces a la Justice Pour Proteger L'environnement Au Quebec: Reflexions Sur la Capacite a Agir Des Particuliers et Des Groupes Environnementaux

By Belanger, Michel; Halley, Paule | McGill Law Journal, March 2017 | Go to article overview

Acces a la Justice Pour Proteger L'environnement Au Quebec: Reflexions Sur la Capacite a Agir Des Particuliers et Des Groupes Environnementaux


Belanger, Michel, Halley, Paule, McGill Law Journal


Environmental and public participation rights are widely accepted and frequently established by statute. Yet, their implementation is often a challenge. This article examines access to justice in Quebec in relation to environmental issues, with the goal of reflecting on the experience of individuals and environmental protection groups and the challenges that they still face.

In addition to the undeniable advantages of the specific injunctive remedy available since 1978 under articles 19.1 to 19.7 of the Environment Quality Act, courts have, in environmental litigation, broadly interpreted the fundamental principles of the Code of Civil Procedure related to the sufficient interest requirement for instituting proceedings.

Where the nature of the issues raised in an environmental dispute does not allow the courts to find sufficient interest under article 85(1) C.C.P., they have repeatedly held individuals as well as associations to have sufficient interest by invoking public interest issues under article 85(2) C.C.P. Courts have taken the same approach when reviewing the legality of an environmental authorization issued by the Ministry of Environment. By allowing these applications, courts have held applicants to have sufficient interest in seeking an injunction to cease particular activities, regardless of the fact that the applicants were associations or frequented the place of a contravention within the meaning of article 19.3 of the EQA.

Over time, the courts have substantially expanded access to justice for individuals and groups. Courts have done so by finding that plaintiffs are acting in the public interest to enforce their environmental rights and by demonstrating openness to reducing some of the financial burdens associated with legal action. Relying on their discretionary power, courts have interpreted the law so as to allow individuals and associations to participate more effectively in environmental protection, particularly environmental defense work based on the public interest and the universal right to the environment. Discretion also ensures that courts are seized of important environmental issues, which might otherwise never be raised in a judicial forum.

Bien que les droits a l'environnement et de participation du public sont frequemment proclames et font l'objet d'un tres large consensus, leur mise en oeuvre demeure bien souvent ardue. Le present article fait un retour sur l'experience quebecoise eu egard a l'acces a la justice en matiere d'environnement, afin de reflechir au chemin parcouru par les particuliers et les associations de defense de l'environnement et les defis qui leur restent a relever.

Outre les avantages indeniables du recours particulier a l'injonction prevu depuis 1978 aux articles 19.1 a 19.7 de la Loi sur la qualite de l'environnement, les tribunaux ont, dans les litiges de nature environnementale, interprete largement les principes de base du Code de procedure civile relatifs a l'interet suffisant pour ester en justice.

Lorsque la nature des enjeux souleves dans un litige environnemental ne permet pas aux tribunaux de conclure a l'existence d'un interet suffisant au sens de l'article 85(1) C.p.c., ils ont regulierement reconnu cet interet aux demandeurs, tant individuellement que par le biais d'associations, en invoquant l'existence de questions de droit public au sens de 85(2) C.p.c. Il en va de meme lorsque l'objet du litige porte sur le controle de la legalite d'une autorisation environnementale delivree par le ministre de l'Environnement. En accueillant ces demandes, les tribunaux ont reconnu aux demandeurs le meme interet pour demander une injonction ordonnant la cessation des activites concernees et ce, sans egard au fait que les demandeurs etaient des associations ou frequentaient le lieu de l'infraction au sens de l'article 19.3 L.q.e.

Avec le temps, les tribunaux ont donc elargi de facon non negligeable l'acces a la justice des individus et des groupes en reconnaissant leur interet a agir dans l'interet public pour faire respecter leurs droits a l'environnement, de meme qu'en demontrant leur ouverture a reduire certaines des charges financieres associees aux recours judiciaires. …

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