Lake Louise Ski Area is going to trial in December, accused of cutting down whitebark pine trees – an endangered species – despite an application to the court to have charges stayed because of how long it has taken the legal system to reach trial.
A trial for the charges, which were laid under the Species at Risk Act and the Canada National Parks Act, is set for Dec. 4-22 in Calgary, due to the time needed to go through evidence alleged against the ski hill.
But the ski area applied to the court for a stay, citing the Jordan decision from 2016 that set out a ceiling for how long it should take for offences in provincial court to be tried at 18 months.
Because the information was sworn on Sept. 4, 2015, legal counsel for Lake Louise from Blake, Cassels & Graydon argued a plea could not be entered until it received all disclosure from the Crown, including DNA test results, which were not available until July 2016.
However, in his decision Judge H.A. Lamoureux noted the Crown provided substantive disclosure early on in the process, including expert opinion that whitebark pine trees were cut down by Lake Louise staff in September 2014.
Lamoureux, in his decision to deny the application for a stay, said DNA analysis was not substantive enough to prevent the accused from entering a not-guilty plea and setting trial dates.
There was also an opportunity to set trial dates in April, noted the judge, which works against the defence’s argument in the application.
“The court rules that the defence had sufficient disclosure as of December 2015, including an expert opinion report on the species of the trees removed, to allow it to enter a plea of not guilty and set a trail date,” wrote Lamoureux.
The charges against Lake Louise were the result of work being conducted by the ski hill to clear – or brush – vegetation along a ridgeline at the top of the Grizzly Express gondola.
It is alleged by Parks Canada that the area cleared was five metres wide and moved along the ridgeline for 290 metres. The area is estimated to have had 140 trees, including at least 39 whitebark pines. According to the exhibit considered for the stay application, the trees at that location were mature, with diameters at the ground of 27 centimetres and as tall as 25 feet.
Whitebark pine is considered an important tree which stabilizes steep slopes, influences the amount of snow melt by sustaining snow drifts, and provides critical food, cover and shelter for many species of wildlife.
The tree has evolved over time to become an important tree of the high elevation forests along the Rocky and Columbia Mountain chains and is listed as endangered under the Species At Risk Act (SARA).
Scientists say the combined effects of fire suppression, climate change, mountain pine beetle outbreaks and a disease known as white pine blister rust have threatened the survival of whitebark pine.
It is found in seven of Canada’s national parks: Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Jasper, Banff, Kootenay, Yoho and Waterton Lakes.