Working to bring CEPA into the 21st century

PFAS Foam in Van Ettan Lake in Oscoda by Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy via Flickr
Program area – Healthy communities Status: In progress
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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.

CEPA is one of the key pieces of legislation that Ecojustice relies on when going to court to fight for a healthy environment for all Canadians. We use CEPA to demand the federal government regulate toxic substances and crackdown on polluters who put the health and security of Canadians at risk – such as recent litigation to force the federal government to lay charges against Volkswagen for its emissions-cheating.

Ecojustice wants to see a modern, fit-for-purpose CEPA. This means a 21st-century law that protects Canadians from 21st-century threats to our health and upholds our right to a healthy environment.

Key developments


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


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


CEPA turns 20: It’s time to modernize Canada’s cornerstone environmental law

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) turns 20 this year. In this blog, Elaine MacDonald, Ecojustice’s healthy communities prog...

February 13, 2020

Press release

Environmental and health groups applaud proposed overhaul of Canada’s toxics law

Ottawa, ON – A broad coalition of environmental, health and civil society groups are applauding a new parliamentary report recommending si...

June 15, 2017

Press release

Canadian Environmental Protection Act report could signal breakthrough for Canadian law

OTTAWA — A new federal government committee report recommends that the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) be amended to recogniz...

June 15, 2017


Much to celebrate in committee report on Canadian Environmental Protection Act

Highlights include major breakthrough for environmental rights, strengthened toxics regulation and protections for vulnerable populations ...

June 15, 2017

Right to a Healthy Environment

December 15,2014

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