A study in executive branch noncompliance with law : government secrecy, endangered species protection, and the whitebark pine


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Master of Laws - LLM




The Access to Information Act, Canada’s law for the public accessibility and secrecy of government records, came into force in 1983. The Species at Risk Act, Canada’s law for endangered species protection came into force in 2003. Neither of the two laws have fulfilled their intended goals. This thesis investigates the causes of the ‘slippage’ between these laws as written and as implemented. This thesis compares the decades of implementation of these two laws to the texts of the laws and the intentions of the legislators who wrote them and finds deliberate and routine executive branch noncompliance has been a major cause of the failures of the laws to achieve their intended goals. The research methodology includes the use of records obtained using a request filed under the Access to Information Act relating to Environment and Climate Change Canada’s long delay in preparing a final Recovery Strategy for the endangered Whitebark Pine. These records are used to illustrate the problem of executive branch noncompliance with law. The thesis analyzes why neither the judicial branch nor Canada’s democratic system are able to prevent or stop executive branch noncompliance and argues that Canada’s traditional system of cabinet confidentiality and secret bureaucratic advice to ministers undermines the rule of law and democracy. The thesis calls for recognition of executive branch secrecy and executive branch noncompliance with law as major obstacles to the rule of law and democracy in Canada.


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Law, Peter A. Allard School of