A couple weeks back I had the opportunity to sit in on an environmental law class at Ottawa University, where I was excited to be present for a discussion on the right to a healthy environment. I found it interesting to learn about political openness to changing the constitution, and developed an understanding of why opening the constitution to add the right to a healthy environment is more complicated than I had previously thought, such as the concern over what else might get weaseled into the constitution while it’s open. Though I had done my own reading on the precautionary principle and progression principle in their relation to environmental law, I was fascinated to learn about the public’s access to environmental decision-making, and the potentially nontransparent process.
Recently, on November 17th, I had the opportunity to further my understanding of such transparency issues when I sat in on the hearing for judicial review on the Genetically Modified (GM) salmon case. The case focuses on AquAdvantage salmon, which the Minister of Environment approved; this approval means that the company AquaBounty Technology could transport GM salmon eggs (modified for faster growth) from PEI to Panama for grow out, and then sell the salmon for consumption within North America. The federal government is being accused of failing to assess whether this GM salmon has potential risk for becoming invasive and toxic. Though the (up to 100,000) eggs have extra chromosomes that make them sterile, the range of sterility is around 95%, meaning that 5% may be fertile, and the Ecojustice lawyers representing the Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society are claiming that this means there is risk involved and the GM salmon may be toxic or are capable of becoming toxic. Of course, this approval raises a host of biodiversity concerns. Furthermore, the government is accused of not giving proper public notice and transparency of the waiver that was granted. This, Ecojustice is claiming, is unreasonable.
Though there were certainly times when the legal jargon went right over my head, I found it exciting to be able to sit in and watch the action. The process is fascinating, and at times almost feels comical because of all the pomp and ceremony. But there was a thrill in being present for the process that may change the trajectory of the first GM animal approved for human consumption.