Protecting pollinators from neonicotinoids

David Suzuki Foundation et al. v. Attorney General of Canada et al.
Photo by Royal Tyler
Program area – Healthy communities Status: Closed
Ecojustice’s position & impact
Meet the team
Get involved

Ecojustice went to Federal Court in November 2018 to challenge conditional registration of some Thiamethoxam pesticides, which are toxic to bees and other pollinators. We argued that these pesticides are unlawfully registered in Canada due to the lax oversight by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA).

Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are systemic chemical insecticides that are found in all tissues of treated plants, including pollen and nectar. They are widely used in modern, intensive agriculture.

In the agriculture sector, neonics are marketed as a way to protect crops from harmful insects. But studies show that these pesticides are also likely to harm “non-target organisms” like native bees, which are responsible for pollinating one third of the world’s crops and 90 per cent of all wild plants. Neonics are one of the largest threats to colony size and health in Canada. Research suggests neonics have played a role in mass bee die-offs, and that the pesticides harm bees’ metabolic, immune, and reproductive functions, and negatively affect bees’ foraging and homing behaviour.

In August 2018, the PMRA proposed to eventually phase out outdoor uses of two widely-used neonicotinoids, Thiamethoxam and Clothianidin, due to the risks they pose to aquatic invertebrates and the fish, birds, and other animals that rely on them as a food source. However, the same day, despite recognizing the dangerous risks Thiamethoxam poses to the environment, the PMRA extended Thiamethoxam’s registrations to December 2020 and proposed granting additional three-year registrations.

In April 2019, Ecojustice received a decision that our lawsuit was not successful. The court did not consider the merits of the case and declined to consider the issues on mootness grounds. This meant that the Court did not make any findings on the PMRA’s actions. (David Suzuki Foundation et al. v. Attorney General of Canada et al. 2019, FCC 411.)

Despite the fact the PMRA’s own research concluded that some uses of Thiamethoxam neonicotinoid pesticides pose unacceptable risks to pollinators, all the products remain conditionally registered until December 31, 2020.

This case challenged a decades-long history of the PMRA failing to live up to its responsibility as a regulator. For years, the PMRA has maintained registrations for Thiamethoxam, a widely-used neonicotinoid pesticide, while failing to ensure it had the scientific information necessary to determine the pesticide’s risks to pollinators. The PMRA has also skirted its legal requirement to consult the public on Thiamethoxam’s environmental risks.

Concern over the PMRA’s lax oversight led Ecojustice to file a lawsuit on behalf of Wilderness Committee, Ontario Nature, David Suzuki Foundation and Friends of the Earth. We asked the court to rule on the issue that the PMRA’s “approve first, study the science later” approach is unlawful and that the practice of granting approvals without science should not continue.

To our disappointment, the Court declined to consider the merits of the case, and did not make any findings as whether the PMRA is undermining the precautionary nature of the Pest Control Products Act by registering possibly harmful products without understanding their impact on ecosystems.

The Pest Control Products Act already has requirements that protect the environment. Ecojustice continues to want the PMRA to follow the law for neonicotinoids and every other pesticide. No pesticide should be used in Canada unless and until it meets the Act’s registration standards for protection of human health and the environment.

Key developments


Bittersweet ending to neonicotinoid pesticide case

Ecojustice learned that the Federal Court decided to dismiss our neonicotinoid pesticide case on mootness grounds, related to the timing of ...

May 6, 2019

Press release

Statement: Court declines to hear merits of neonicotinoid pesticide case

TORONTO, 11 April 2019 – Environmental groups expressed their disappointment at the Federal Court’s April 5, 2019 decision to dismiss a ...

April 11, 2019


The latest buzz: Pollinators’ week in court

Last week, I was in court with my colleagues, Laura and Bronwyn, fighting to end lax regulatory practices that put pollinators at risk. We m...

November 28, 2018

Press release

Canada’s approval of pollinator-killing pesticide violates federal law

Groups in court over neonicotinoid pesticide linked to declining pollinator populations TORONTO — Environmental groups are in Federal...

November 19, 2018


Is the federal government doing enough to protect our environment from harmful pesticides?

While many of us are taking some time to quietly enjoy the sights and sounds of nature this summer, the buzz around the health of Canada’s...

August 17, 2018

Press release

Federal Court rules bee-killing pesticide lawsuit will go to full hearing

Lawsuit brought by environmental groups survives second attempt to shut it down. TORONTO — A lawsuit launched by environmental groups i...

April 12, 2018


Bees v. government & industry, round two

We’re fending off a second attempt to shut down our lawsuit against pollinator-killing pesticides Today, we’re back in court to fend ...

November 15, 2017

Press release

Judge orders a hearing of environmental groups’ pesticide case

TORONTO - A Federal Court judge has ruled that a case to protect pollinators from neonicotinoid pesticides must be heard before the courts. ...

July 17, 2017


VICTORY: Pollinators will get their day in court!

Ecojustice lawyers were in court this month to make sure our case against bee-killing pesticides is heard. It was an exciting two-day hearin...

July 17, 2017

Press release

Federal regulator announces Neonicotinoid pesticide phase out

TORONTO — Ecojustice lawyer, Charles Hatt, reacts to the PMRA’s announcement: The Pest Management Regulatory Agency announced that i...

November 23, 2016

Press release

Environmental groups head to court over pollinator-killing pesticides

Neonicotinoid pesticides have been linked to mass bee die-offs and declining pollinator populations. TORONTO — Environmental groups are...

July 6, 2016

Join our newsletter

Get updates on the most pressing environmental issues delivered straight to your inbox.