Insight

[Courts' insights into environmental approvals] TRANSLATED FROM FRENCH

[Courts' insights into environmental approvals] TRANSLATED FROM FRENCH

Christine D. Duchaine

Christine D. Duchaine

September 6, 2019 09:50 AM

Les éclairages des tribunaux relativement aux autorisations environnementales

Christine Duchaine

Cabinet Juridique Sodavex

2010

  1. INTRODUCTION

Pendant plusieurs siècles et ce, jusqu'à une époque pas si lointaine, les activités humaines n'étaient assujetties à aucune obligation visant la protection et la préservation de l'environnement. En moins de quarante ans, notre société a assisté à une prolifération de lois et de règlements à tous les paliers de gouvernement visant à encadrer la plupart des activités. Parmi les mesures de prédilection de nos gouvernements, l'assujettissement à l'obligation d'obtenir des autorisations préalables se situe au sommet de la liste.

Ainsi, il n'est pas rare de nos jours de devoir obtenir plusieurs autorisations de divers paliers et organismes avant de pouvoir entreprendre une activité. Toute la panoplie des autorisations s'y retrouve, allant du pouvoir lié à la décision discrétionnaire. Parfois l'obtention de ces autorisations est également assujettie à des processus précis et implique des audiences publiques ou des séances d'information.

À l'heure actuelle, force est de constater que tout projet pouvant avoir un impact sur l'environnement dans son sens large est scruté à la loupe par les décideurs fédéraux, provinciaux et municipaux, de même que par la population et les médias. La société exige que ces activités soient encadrées par des règles sévères insérées dans les lois et les autorisations émises afin d'éviter les dérapages du passé.

Qu'il suffise de faire allusion au tollé qui entoure présentement l'exploitation des gaz de schiste au Québec pour s'en convaincre: les reproches sont principalement liés au secret entourant l'exploitation, à l'apparente improvisation et aux lacunes concernant les normes applicables et à l'absence d'autorisation préalable. La population et les municipalités veulent être consultées et informées des détails des divers projets, souhaitent un cadre législatif qui assurera la protection de l'environnement dans une optique de développement durable et exigent que les projets soient assujettis à l'obligation d'obtenir des autorisations avant que l'exploitation ne soit entreprise.

De tels objectifs, bien que louables, ne s'atteignent pas sans heurts. L'adoption constante de nouvelles exigences implique son lot de complications, dont les plus fréquentes sont les difficultés d'interprétation de la législation applicable et des autorisations émises, ainsi que les problèmes d'arrimage entre les divers lois et règlements, entre les divers paliers de gouvernement impliqués, de même qu'entre les différents mécanismes d'autorisation applicables à un projet. Se pose aussi souvent la question de l'application des nouvelles exigences aux activités préexistantes.

À ce titre, tant le ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement et des Parcs (ci-après le «MDDEP») les exploitants et la population en général n'hésitent pas à utiliser la panoplie des recours judiciaires afin de saisir les tribunaux des questions relatives à la validité et à l'interprétation d'autorisations environnementales et des dispositions législatives les concernant.

Dans cet article que nous ne prétendons pas exhaustif, nous souhaitons examiner certaines décisions récentes de nos tribunaux afin de vérifier si les principes antérieurement établis concernant les autorisations environnementales sont maintenus ou modifiés et si de nouvelles règles ont été énoncées à cet égard.

Mais d'abord, nous débuterons par un rappel des principes dégagés par les décisions des années antérieures.

Pour en apprendre davantage, cliquez ici.

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