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Groups demand Minister of Environment halt proposal to remove protection for migratory birds

Canada warbler © Robert McCaw

TORONTO – A coalition of over 40 environmental groups and experts today demanded that Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Glen Murray stop a proposed exemption for commercial building owners from a legal obligation to protect migratory birds. The action comes soon after a stern rebuke by the province’s Environmental Commissioner for the Ministry’s failure to use its authority under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) to require owners to protect birds from lethal window strikes.

The Ministry plans to replace the legal protection with as-yet unspecified measures as part of a voluntary system for corporate building owners.

“Every year, we collect thousands of dead and injured birds at buildings in the Toronto area,” said Michael Mesure, executive director of the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) Canada. “The Ministry’s plan is both disheartening and absurd given our work during 22 years showing that corporate owners aren’t interested in voluntary action.”

In 2013, an Ontario Court in Podolsky v. Cadillac Fairview made clear that the province has the power to regulate building owners that are killing birds in window strikes. The court found that reflected light from building windows is a “contaminant” under the EPA.

“The decision by the Minister to give up a key power to protect birds is incomprehensible,” said John Swaigen, a lawyer with Ecojustice. “The decision to opt for voluntary measures is equally incomprehensible given the clear evidence that such measures don’t work.”

In her annual report last month the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario called out the Ministry for abdicating its responsibility, writing: “it appears that the ministry’s preferred approach is to ignore its regulatory responsibility and leave it up to property owners and managers to voluntarily follow guidelines and suggested strategies.” (p. 63)

Anne Bell of Ontario Nature added that, “birds, including many threatened species like the Canada Warbler, are facing a growing number of threats. This is the wrong time to be giving up powers to protect migratory birds.”

Commercially-available window markers have proven to be effective in preventing deadly window strikes.

“We urgently need the Ministry to put in place a permit system to protect migratory birds”, said Albert Koehl, who led the prosecution against Cadillac Fairview in the 2013 case. “The same permit system is already routinely used to regulate a wide variety of less harmful contaminants.”

The deadline for public comments to the Ministry’s exemption proposal is Friday, December 4, 2015.

Copy of letter signed by 45 organizations available upon request