Protecting Canadians from harmful pesticides banned in other countries

Equiterre v. Canada (Health)
Photo by Leonid Ikan via Shutterstock
Program area – Healthy communities Status: Victory
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In August 2013, Ecojustice lawyers filed a lawsuit challenging the Government of Canada’s refusal to protect Canadians from harmful pesticides already banned for use in other countries.

The case, Équiterre v. Canada (Health), filed on behalf of Équiterre and the David Suzuki Foundation, alleged that the Minister of Health and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) acted unlawfully when they refused to review the approval of pest-control products containing three pesticide ingredients: chlorthal-dimethyl, trifluralin and trichlorfon.

Although these pesticides are already banned in Europe because of concerns over their impact on the environment and human health, they continue to be approved for use in Canada. The lawsuit also challenged the PMRA’s unreasonable delay in initiating other legally required special reviews. Our clients had first requested these special reviews in October 2012, for 26 other harmful pesticides ingredients found in hundreds of pesticide products, several of which are suspected to cause cancer.

Under the Pest Control Products Act, when another Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development member country bans an active pesticide ingredient for health or environmental reasons, the Minister of Health is required to initiate a special review of all registered pest control products containing that active ingredient. The Minister must then evaluate these pesticide products and decide whether to continue approving the products for use in Canada.

The court agreed that special reviews triggered by bans in other OECD countries are obligatory and the PRMA is required to carry out these reviews.

In response to a lawsuit filed by Ecojustice lawyers on behalf of Équiterre and the David Suzuki Foundation, the federal government agreed to review the approval of 383 pesticide products containing 23 active ingredients — including difenoconazole — already banned for use in European countries. Many of them have links to cancer and water contamination.

The PMRA agreed to initiate the 23 special reviews just four months after the lawsuit was filed.  We continue to support our clients’ efforts to make these reviews rigorous and meaningful by providing legal advice and scientific research, and by monitoring the PMRA’s conduct of the reviews.

We believe that lawmakers should protect our health and environment with world-class pesticide regulation, not expose Canadians to unnecessary risk. That means that Canada’s regulation of pesticides should keep pace with those of our industrialized peers around the globe, reflecting the best available science and a precautionary approach. When other countries ban pesticides because they pose unacceptable risks to human health and the environment, Canada must fulfil its legal obligation to review those substances and should consider taking similar steps to ban their use within our borders.

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