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 in the past 20 years, our scientific understanding of the impacts of environmental and toxic pollution has greatly evolved. We now know that there is no real safe threshold for exposure to toxic chemicals or air pollution – even at low doses, their effects can be detrimental to human and ecosystem health.

That is why we need a modern law that protects our health and the people, species, 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 would finally bring important modernization to CEPA.

However, when a federal election was called in 2021 and voters elected a new Parliament, Bill C-28 died on the order paper.

The incoming government once again committed to reform CEPA, and in February 2022 they reintroduced proposed legislation for CEPA reform as Bill S-5 before the Senate, intending to pass the legislation in the upper chamber before it goes through the legislative process in the House.

Passing Bill S-5 would mean that for the first time every person in Canada has the legal right to a healthy environment. Citizens of 156 other UN member states already enjoy a wide range of environmental rights. The passage of this legislation will ensure Canada finally catches up with international environmental norms.

While recognition of the right to a healthy environment in CEPA is a significant step forward for environmental justice in Canada, amendments to Bill S-5 are needed to remove problematic clauses that allow for the consideration of economic interests in applying the right.

Ecojustice, along with our partners, is now asking all Senators and MPs to work together to make sure that the bill is improved and passes before the end of the year.

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.

The right to live in an environment that is free from environmental harm and dangerous pollution is core to the values of Ecojustice and is crucial to holding polluters accountable when they break the law.

Ecojustice has been at the forefront of calling for modern environmental law that can protect Canadians from 21st-century threats. This includes legislation that would guarantee the legal right to a healthy environment for the first time in federal law.

Our supporters have been vocal in calling on political leaders to keep their promise and reform CEPA so that everyone in Canada is protected from dangerous environmental pollution.

Ecojustice wants all Senators and MPs to work together to finally deliver a modern and effective CEPA.

Watch video: the Canadian Environmental Protection Act needs a makeover

Ecojustice's Simone Williamson explains the many hidden dangerous substances in our daily lives and how an updated Canadian Environmental Protection Act will help protect us.


Key developments

Press release

MPs must seize the opportunity to strengthen bill to update environmental protection law

Environment committee to consider Bill S-5 this week OTTAWA/TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED TERRITORY OF THE ALGONQUIN ANISHNAABEG PEOPLE –  Tomo...

November 21, 2022

Press release

Senate passes first major update to Canadian Environmental Protection Act in two decades

Bill S-5 modernizes Canada’s cornerstone environmental law on pollution and toxic substances  OTTAWA/TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED TERRITORY OF...

June 23, 2022

Press release

Environmental and health groups call out big polluters for lobbying the Senate to weaken and delay environmental protection bill

Groups urge Senate to reject industry interference and pass Bill S-5 before the summer recess OTTAWA | TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED TERRITORY OF ...

June 21, 2022

Press release

Long-awaited environmental protection bill one step closer to becoming law

Groups welcome Senate committee amendments to protect the right to a healthy environment and close loopholes OTTAWA/TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED ...

June 9, 2022


Canada faces a chemical pollution crisis — and the time to act is now

This was originally published in the National Observer on May 4, 2022.  “The most alarming of all assaults upon the environment is t...

May 19, 2022

Press release

Strengthen and pass long-awaited bill to modernize Canada’s environmental protection act, groups urge Senate committee

Hearings begin today on Bill S-5, five years after a parliamentary review recommended strengthening CEPA OTTAWA | TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED TE...

April 28, 2022

Press release

Parliament must prioritize passage of strong environmental protection bill

CEPA modernization bill now reintroduced in the Senate must be strengthened and passed this year, groups say OTTAWA/TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED ...

February 9, 2022


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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