The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) is now more than 20 years old and long overdue for an update.
CEPA is Canada’s cornerstone law for protecting human health and the environment from pollution and toxic substances. But since CEPA was last overhauled a lot has changed. For example, Canadians have become increasingly exposed to toxics in our everyday lives through the items in our homes and the products we use, while scientific knowledge of risks has advanced. We need a modern law that protects our health and the people and places we care about from these harmful substances.
In 2016 and 2017, Ecojustice participated in a thorough review of CEPA undertaken by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development (ENVI), providing both oral testimony and written submissions. Thanks in part to Ecojustice’s extensive contributions, the standing committee released a report in 2017 with 87 substantial recommendations to improve the Act and its implementation. In response to the report, the government agreed to update CEPA, and in 2019 the Prime Minister mandated the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to better protect people and the environment from toxins and other pollution by strengthening the Act.
In April 2021, the federal government tabled Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (Bill C-28) that will finally bring important modernization to 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.
Ecojustice, along with our partners the David Suzuki Foundation and Environmental Defence (a fellow member of the Coalition for Action on Toxics), is now asking the federal government to strengthen and pass Bill C-28.