Photo: Courts rule in favour of protecting killer whales

Endangered southern resident killer whale (Credit: Brian Gisborne).

By Scott Wallace, DSF sustainable fisheries analyst

We won! After a long, drawn-out legal challenge by Ecojustice representing the David Suzuki Foundation and eight other leading conservation organizations, the courts have confirmed that killer whale habitat is not already protected, as DFO tried to argue. The court's full ruling is that this habitat includes more than just the geophysical surroundings, but also the whale's acoustic and foraging environment.

If ever there was an iconic species that our government would want to protect on behalf of Canadians, British Columbia's resident killer whales are obvious candidates. However, that has not been our experience. The journey to protect B.C.'s killer whales under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), until yesterday, has been a discouraging reality check for how the government of Canada intended to deal with species at risk of extinction.

At each step in the process, our government deliberately attempted to undermine the legal powers of the SARA to protect killer whales and consequently any other marine species being considered under the Act. The Federal Court judgment issued on December 7, 2010, explicitly calls out DFO's "evasive conduct" on this case and also states that DFO acted "unlawfully" in its attempt to limit the application of the SARA.

This is a huge victory for species at risk in Canada. For me, it is also a rewarding conclusion to a drawn-out process. I have been directly involved in the process, including being part of the killer whale recovery team, submitting an affidavit, and being cross-examined by DFO lawyers on my written testimony.

I first read the DFO-issued Protection Statement (PDF) on September 10, 2008, the day it was released. I was appalled that the government had issued a statement saying that killer whale habitat is already legally protected, citing a laundry list of voluntary programs, policies and non-implemented laws available to protect habitat.

The courts have confirmed what we believed all along, that killer whales and their habitat are not being protected by our existing legislation. This ruling will have a tremendous impact on how the federal government implements the Act in the future.

There are still several challenges ahead to implement the court's decision, but having the legal mandate will certainly facilitate the resources to ensure it happens.

This is a great outcome to a long process and would not have been possible without the skilled legal counsel of Ecojustice.

December 8, 2010

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Dec 08, 2010
4:26 PM

Thank-you so much for taking up this legal challenge. One one hand, it’s wonderful that our legal system can be used to promote the conservation of species and habitat, on the other hand, it’s a tragedy that we have to use them. But as long as the legal tools are there, I am very grateful that they are being used to serve all life.

Dec 08, 2010
4:28 PM

yo good job we need to keep all animals safe you are a true hero do whatever you must keep doing the great work you are truly amazing you and your team and everone else that protects

Dec 08, 2010
4:57 PM

killers men stop killing killer whales. That’s obvious

Dec 08, 2010
6:31 PM

Wonderful news! It is great to hear this species will be receiving the protection they deserve.

Dec 08, 2010
6:59 PM

I am very glad that the courts have ruled in favor of protecting “Killer Whales” Better a lengthy battle then no battle at all.Now to get them {the government }to open their eyes to the many other endangered species.Thanks to the “David Suzuki Foundation” this can happen.

Dec 09, 2010
4:58 AM

congratulations from belgium, very good job done

Dec 09, 2010
5:56 AM


Dec 10, 2010
7:52 AM

These are great news!! I still dont understand why Canada keeps hunting wales… It might had sense hundred of years ago but in my opinion, nowadays it makes non sense.

Dec 22, 2010
12:34 AM

Definitely a great news, this is one big step towards better protection on this kind of animals including whales and dolphins. This should be implemented worldwide, especially in stoping Japan in illegal catching and killing them..

Jan 23, 2012
1:02 PM

This is my favorite animal in the whole world! To me it hurts (yes it even makes me cry.) to see the population of these wonderful creatures dwindle. This is a creature that needs to be protected! Thank you soooo much for standing up for what is right. Protecting what our great God created.

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