Environmental group challenges CN herbicide use and refusal to follow provincial rules

An environmental group is asking the province to step in and take legal action against CN Rail for its alleged use of herbicides along tracks in northwest British Columbia.

A pesticide management plan is required by the provincial government but CN argues it follows federal rules

Photographs taken along the river near CN tracks show what appears to be a line of dead vegetation that crosses creeks and waterways, according to the environmentalists who documented the more than 100 kilometre stretch of treated area. (T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation)

An environmental group is asking the B.C. government to step in and take legal action against CN Railway for alleged herbicide use and sidestepping provincial laws.

Last fall, the railway company was accused of illegally spraying herbicides near salmon creeks along the Skeena River in northwest British Columbia, Canada's second most productive salmon river.

Photographs show a line of dead vegetation along a 100 kilometre stretch of CN tracks.

"It's a concern because of the importance of the fishery on the Skeena, for local jobs and for the local economy," said Angela McCue, a lawyer for the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation.

CN said in a statement that it's working to protect both its railway from encroaching vegetation and the river from toxic chemicals and will abide by B.C.'s standards of pesticide use near waterways. 

A challenge to 'constitutional authority'

However, in a letter to the province posted online by T. Buck Suzuki, the rail company said it doesn't have to follow some of the provincial regulations.

"As a federally-regulated interprovincial railway company, CN is of the view that it is not required to submit a Pest Management Plan," wrote CN's co-ordinator of legislative affairs, Monika Pezdek.

Under B.C.'s Integrated Vegetation Management Act, companies must submit their pesticide plans.

"We have put the attorney general on notice because, by suggesting that B.C. law doesn't apply, they have challenged the constitutional authority of the B.C. government to enforce environmental laws within its own borders," McCue said.

In the letter, the company includes some of the information that the pest management plan requires and promises to inform the public about upcoming pesticide applications. 

The environmental organization is waiting for a response from the attorney general and is prepared to look at other legal alternatives like seeking a prosecution or seeking declarations in court about whether provincial law applies to CN, McCue told Carolina de Ryk, the host of CBC's Daybreak North.

CN follows the federal Pest Control Products Act and the Pest Control Products Regulations. 

McCue argues approval to use herbicides or pesticides under federal law "doesn't mean you can willy-nilly go out and use it anywhere."   

"The province wants to minimize pesticide use," she said. "B.C. laws are as strong as they are because of the importance of fisheries."

The federal and provincial governments are still investigating claims about CN's pesticide use last fall.  

Rail company argues it is federally regulated and so can sidestep B.C. requirements 6:40

With files from Daybreak North and Nicole Oud.  

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