Right to a Healthy Environment

Program area – Healthy communities Status: In progress
Overview
Ecojustice’s position & impact
Meet the team
Get involved
Additional resources

For years we’ve been thinking about how Canada can better protect people and the environment. Over and over, we’ve arrived at the same answer: Charter recognition of the right to a healthy environment.

It’s a big idea that’s time has finally come.

It may seem novel to Canadians, but in the last 50 years the right to a healthy environment has gained recognition faster than any other human right. Around the world, more than 110 countries now recognize their citizens’ right to a healthy environment. In fact, Canada is among only a dozen nations that do not yet explicitly recognize this fundamental human right.

Most Canadians agree that strong environmental laws are important. Yet, Canada’s current patchwork of environmental laws and weak regulatory standards mean that thousands of people, disproportionately those in First Nations communities, do not have access to clean running water. Thousands of others are exposed to harmful levels of air pollution every day. Dozens of toxic chemicals already banned in other countries can still be legally used within our borders. These injustices make a clear case that Canada needs to take bold action and recognize environmental rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

For 25 years, Ecojustice has fought for legal precedents that protect our air, our water and the natural world. In that time, we’ve become all too familiar with the ways Canada’s current patchwork of environmental laws falls short.

Evidence from around the world demonstrates that countries that recognize constitutional environmental rights and responsibilities have stronger, better enforced environmental laws. There is more citizen participation in environmental decision-making and a reduction in environmental injustices, like exceptionally high levels of pollution in poor and marginalized communities.

In April 2020, after extensive campaigning by Ecojustice and our partners, the federal government tabled the Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (Bill C-28) that will modernize the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).

For the first time in Canadian federal law, Bill C-28 recognizes that every person in Canada has the legal right to a healthy environment, but Bill C-28 requires amendments to make this right truly impactful.

While recognition of the right to a healthy environment in CEPA is a significant step forward for environmental justice in Canada, amendments to Bill C-28 are needed to remove problematic clauses that allow for the consideration of economic interests in applying the right.

Already enshrined in the constitutions, laws, court decisions or regional treaties of 156 other UN member states, the right to a healthy environment is central to the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including the right to life, health, food, water and sanitation.

The Charter is Canada’s highest law. It applies to all levels of government and all other laws must conform to it. By enshrining the right to a healthy environment in the Charter, we can align our highest law with our most deeply-held values. More concretely, a Charter right to a healthy environment could prevent harmful rollbacks of environmental laws — like the sweeping changes buried in the 2012 federal omnibus budget bills. It would also make it easier for people living in toxic hotpots like Sarnia’s Chemical Valley to seek justice. Overall, countries that recognize environmental rights in their constitutions have smaller per capita ecological footprints, which is a major win for people and the planet.

Key developments

Blog

New legislation can be a first step towards environmental justice

Political parties need to make Bill C-28 a priority After years of campaigning by committed activists, environmental groups and health ad...

April 27, 2021

Press release

Environmental health advocates welcome first federal recognition of right to a healthy environment in bill to better protect Canadians from toxics

Parliament must prioritize modernization of Canadian Environmental Protection Act OTTAWA/TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED TERRITORY OF THE ALGONQUIN ...

April 13, 2021

Blog

Human right to a healthy environment in Canada long overdue

Failure to recognize this right is a critical barrier to racial, environmental justice Canadians may be shocked to learn that we – who ...

December 10, 2020

Blog

People around the world deserve the right to a healthy and safe environment

David R. Boyd was appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment for a three-year term commencing August 1, 2018...

October 19, 2020

Press release

Statement: Ecojustice and clients remain vigilant of environmental rollbacks

Toronto – Ecojustice, on behalf of its clients former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Gordon Miller and the Canadian Association of ...

June 16, 2020

Press release

Ecojustice, former Ontario environmental commissioner, CAPE call for review of decision to exclude public participation during COVID-19

TORONTO – Ecojustice, acting on behalf of former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Gordon Miller and the Canadian Association of Physi...

May 14, 2020

Press release

Ecojustice reacts: Ford suspends public participation in proposed Ontario government environmental decisions

For immediate release April 7, 2020   Toronto – The Ford government has used the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic to pass a regul...

April 7, 2020

Blog

The importance of Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights: What you need to know

When it was first enacted almost 25 years ago, Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) was an important, ground-breaking statute that...

September 24, 2018

Blog

Drinking water crisis in First Nations communities violates human rights

New government data shows there are approximately 150 drinking water advisories in First Nations communities in Canada. Seventy one of these...

February 23, 2017

Press release

It’s time for Ontario to strengthen its Environmental Bill of Rights

TORONTO — The David Suzuki Foundation and Ecojustice are urging Ontario’s government to stand up for Ontarians by strengthening the prov...

July 12, 2016

Blog

Taking a look at Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights

We go over some changes the government could make to its Environmental Bill of Rights to improve the protection of Ontarians’ environment ...

July 12, 2016

Press release

Ecojustice and the David Suzuki Foundation applaud introduction of Environmental Bill of Rights in British Columbia 

VICTORIA — The Environmental Bill of Rights, 2016, introduced in British Columbia today signifies an important step toward national recogn...

May 17, 2016

Blog

Environmental rights an idea all Nova Scotians should get behind

Nova Scotia is a beautiful province to live in.  With its pristine shorelines, undisturbed old-growth forest, and rolling hills, our provin...

May 16, 2016

Press release

Ecojustice and the David Suzuki Foundation applaud introduction of Environmental Bill of Rights in Nova Scotia

HALIFAX — The Environmental Bill of Rights introduced in Nova Scotia today signifies an important step toward national recognition of the ...

May 5, 2016

Blog

Keeping with the environmental law times: Lessons to be learned from Manitoba’s Environmental Rights Act

At 23 years old, Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993 is in serious need of reform to bring it up to speed with legal developments...

April 20, 2016

Blog

A tale of two provinces: Environmental rights legislation in Manitoba and Ontario

Manitoba’s proposed Environmental Rights Act puts pressure on Ontario to improve its Environmental Bill of Rights When Ontario’s Envi...

March 17, 2016

Press release

Statement: Ecojustice and the David Suzuki Foundation applaud introduction of Manitoba’s Environmental Rights Act

WINNIPEG — Ecojustice and the David Suzuki Foundation issued the following statement in response to the introduction of Manitoba’s Envir...

March 2, 2016

Blog

Time for an environmental bill of rights in Manitoba

Given that it is an election year, it would be easy to politicize efforts to introduce an environmental bill of rights in Manitoba, but that...

January 19, 2016

Blog

Canadians deserve legal right to healthy environment

 It's time for Canada's laws to recognize that environmental rights are human rights. Last week Toronto became the 100th municipalit...

December 17, 2015

Blog

Environmental rights are human rights

This holiday season, stand up for environmental rights Today is International Human Rights Day. So, it is only fitting that yesterday Can...

December 10, 2015

Press release

Federal environmental bill of rights tabled on eve of Human Rights Day

Ottawa - Today, on the eve of international Human Rights Day, Linda Duncan, Member of Parliament for Edmonton-Strathcona, tabled Bill C-202....

December 9, 2015

Blog

Promise of Manitoban environmental bill of rights is good news for Keystone Province

The right to a healthy environment is a keystone tenet of modern environmental law — it is the underlying premise that recognizes the conn...

October 28, 2015

Blog

Right to water, healthy environment must be immediate priorities for new government

Incoming government has golden opportunity to end First Nations drinking water crisis and recognize environmental human rights On the fi...

October 20, 2015

Blog

Nova Scotia needs to step up on environmental rights

UPDATE: We’re pleased to report that on May 5 2016, members of the Nova Scotia Legislature introduced an Environmental Rights bill. If ...

September 4, 2015

Blog

Environmental Racism: The first step is recognizing we have a problem

New legislation in Nova Scotia is a big step in the right direction Last week, Bill 111, An Act to Address Environmental Racism, passed f...

May 6, 2015

Blog

Why it’s time for Canada to recognize our right to water

Credit: Jaimie Duplass via Shutterstock Editor's note: We're pulling this piece on the right to water, originally published last month,...

April 21, 2015

Blog

Making Sense of the Proposed Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights

There is some exciting news coming out of Ottawa this week. Yesterday, a Member of Parliament tabled a private members bill that could lead ...

November 5, 2014

Blog

The right to a healthy environment: The next big thing

Canada’s environmental framework is broken. But a Charter right that protects each and every Canadian’s right to a healthy environment c...

November 4, 2014

Blog

Are you ready for what’s next?

At Ecojustice, our work is rooted in environmental law. Simply put, we believe that strong environmental laws can protect the air, water and...

September 4, 2014

Blog

A healthy environment should be a basic human right

Dr. David R. Boyd is one of Canada's leading environmental lawyers. An adjunct professor in Resource and Environmental Management at Simon F...

November 5, 2012

Press release

Vancouver urged to fulfill bright green promise of environmental rights

Ecojustice report gives city tools to create right to a healthy environment VANCOUVER – A new report by Ecojustice is calling on mayors...

October 31, 2012

Blog

Restoring the Balance: Recognizing Environmental Rights in British Columbia

Environmental protection is the civil rights issue of this generation. Rights are a reflection of what matters most to a society, and at thi...

January 19, 2010

Join our newsletter

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