Supreme Court Upholds Forest Practices Board’s Freedom To Comment
Victoria – The BC Supreme Court has rejected a legal argument that would have seriously impaired the ability of the Forest Practices Board to report what is going on in the province’s forests. The Forest Practices Board’s right to fully report its audit findings to the public was upheld in the Nov. 30th decision.
In June of this year, Northwood Inc. obtained a temporary court order to halt publication of a Board audit of Forest Licence A16828 near Houston, and challenged the Board’s reporting rights in BC Supreme Court in a hearing on Oct 25-27.
In the first court challenge to the Board’s reporting rights, Northwood had argued that the Board could only comment on issues related to whether a licensee complied with the Forest Practices Code. The Board argued that it must be able to comment about practices that comply with the Code but cause environmental damage—and make recommendations for change. Justice Donald Brenner ruled that in his view “…it is essential that the Board’s…powers not be restricted to simply reporting on compliance.” The Court also recognized the key role of the Board in improving the Code and making it more effective. Many Board recommendations are made as a result of its audit findings.
“We are pleased the Court has confirmed the public’s right to know what is taking place in the woods,” said Keith Moore, Board Chair. “This decision supports the Board’s mandate as a public watchdog that can fully report on the results of practices it finds in the field. This type of reporting allows the Board to clarify its compliance findings and make recommendations to improve forest practices. That is what the Board did in the Northwood audit, and the Court has upheld our mandate to do that.”
In addition to reporting on Code compliance, the Board’s audit reports normally include comments on problems as well as notable practices. The Board reports its findings to the public and makes recommendations that are based on detailed examinations of practices in the field. Problems are reported even if the auditee is meeting basic Code requirements.
The judge ruled the temporary court order against publishing the audit report will continue for 21 days. This will provide Northwood with an opportunity to file an appeal should it wish. The Court decision will be available at http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/Sc/sc-main.htm on the Internet.
The Forest Practices Board is BC’s independent watchdog for sound forest practices. The Board provides British Columbians with objective and independent assessments of the state of forest planning and practices in the province, compliance with the Code, and the achievement of its intent.
The Board’s main roles are: auditing forest practices, undertaking investigations in response to public complaints, undertaking special investigations of any Code-related forestry issues, participating in administrative reviews and appeals and providing reports on Board activities, findings and recommendations.
December 1, 1999