To kick off Canada Water Week (the 14th to the 22nd of March) with a legal spin I have borrowed a quote from a case from our southern neighbours in 1972. At issue in Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 was the standing of the non-government organization (Sierra Club) which sought an injunction in relation to an approval of a ski area in the Sequoia National Forest. In his dissenting judgment Mr. Justice Douglas noted,
Inanimate objects are sometimes parties in litigation. A ship has a legal personality, a fiction found useful for maritime purposes. The corporation sole – a creature of ecclesiastical law – is an acceptable adversary and large fortunes ride on its cases. The ordinary corporation is a “person” for purposes of the adjudicatory processes, [405 U.S. 727, 743] whether it represents proprietary, spiritual, aesthetic, or charitable causes.
So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life. The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains or nourishes – fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or who enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it. Those people who have a meaningful relation to that body of water – whether it be a fisherman, a canoeist, a zoologist, or a logger – must be able to speak for the values which the river represents and which are threatened with destruction…..
Nearly four decades on and legal standing for nature remains elusive. So as we celebrate our fantastic water resources it is also a time to take stock of where we stand.
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