Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



environmental law, administrative law, judicial review, environmental principles, precautionary principle, sustainable development, access to justice


In commemoration of their 50th anniversary, this chapter examines the Federal Courts’ role in shaping environmental law in Canada. The chapter uses well-known environmental principles – the precautionary principle, sustainable development and access to (environmental) justice – as focal points for examining environmental law as well as the legal culture of the Federal Courts. The chapter identifies four distinct interpretive roles that the Federal Courts have ascribed to the precautionary principle and it argues that three of these roles have the potential to generate more coherent and transparent doctrine that upholds the rule of law in the environmental context. In contrast, chapter argues that the Courts have struggled to provide any legal meaning to the principle of sustainable development. Further, it identifies how the Courts have improved access to environmental justice through their standing and costs doctrines. Finally, the chapter critically examines a notable example of how the Federal Courts actively avoid engaging with environmental principles.