The tories like to boast of the number of provincial parks they've created. But don't assume they actually intend to protect any of them.That's the message activist lawyer Clayton Ruby delivered earlier this month when he launched a legal suit against the Ministry of Natural Resources on behalf of eco-group Earthroots.
At issue is a tiny 2-kilometre logging road the province is allowing timber firms to construct through Bob Lake Conservation Reserve in the fragile Temagami region, site of decades of anti-logging protests.
The so-called Eye Lake Road hasn't been used in more than 25 years, since long before the area surrounding it became protected. Today, the former logging route is little more than an overgrown dirt trail, says Earthroots.
The ministry wants to clear the trail for a new road so logging trucks can access an area to be clear-cut on the other side of the reserve. Yet the law specifies that protected areas must be free of "commercial forest harvest... or industrial uses."
"Hauling logs is clearly industrial," argues Ruby. "The government as usual wants to have it its own way. It wants to have protected areas but doesn't want to protect them."
Ruby says the government could easily avoid building a road through Bob Lake by setting up a slightly longer (and more expensive) route through non-protected areas. "It's all about money," he says.
A victory in this case would set a precedent, he points out, banning the hauling of logs through all conservation reserves, not just when it involves building new roads through them. A verdict is expected within weeks, and until then -- much to the satisfaction of Earthroots -- no work can be done on the road.
Ministry of Natural Resources spokespeople decline to comment, saying the matter is before the courts. According to Earthroots, the government contends that it's not building a road, just upgrading an existing one.
The MNR has a long history of slippery behaviour. Last year it was investigated by the Ministry of the Environment for violating the rules on clear-cutting. But, not surprisingly, the MOE found nothing wrong with its sister ministry.
Says Earthroots director Josh Matlow, "The government has a different definition of protection than the Ontario public."