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.