Jump to Content
A Canadian flag flies on a pole. Snow capped mountains stand in the background.

In progress

Right to a Healthy Environment

December 15, 2014

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.

Ecojustice staff

Dr. Elaine MacDonald

Tony Maas

Apr 2021
An aerial view of a large industrial plant. Smoke billows from many smoke stacks and fills the sky.

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 advocates, the federal government tabled the Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (Bill C-28).
Dec 2020
A large industrial complex sits against a sunset. Large smoke stacks blow smoke into the orange sky above.

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 live among some of the world’s last-remaining boreal forest systems and along the shores of the Great Lakes, whose glossy tourism adverts promise adventure in pristine archipelagos and towering mountain ranges –.
Sep 2018
A marsh wish lily pads in the water. On the far shore is a field of tall grasses.

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 set Ontario apart from other provinces by granting a range of procedural rights to its residents.
Feb 2017
White rapids of water flow down a stream.

Drinking water crisis in First Nations communities violates human rights

By Kaitlyn Mitchell, staff lawyer New government data shows there are approximately 150 drinking water advisories in First Nations communities in Canada.
Jul 2016
A multicoloured sunset makes the ground look dark. Thin clouds add different colour to the sunset.

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 and health One of the keys to Ontario’s success as a great place to live, work, and enjoy outdoor recreation has been the balance between industrial growth and protecting the natural things we.
May 2016
A lighthouse stands on a cliff at sunrise.

Environmental rights an idea all Nova Scotians should get behind

Nova Scotia is a beautiful province to live in.
Apr 2016
Grasses and flowers sit next to a still creek. On the other side of the water are taller grasses and trees.

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 in environmental law in Canada and abroad.
Mar 2016
A waterfall creates mist around a rocky cliff. Evergreen trees stand in the background.

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 Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) came into effect in February of 1994, it was at the forefront of Canadian environmental law and policy.
Jan 2016
Still blue water is framed by evergreen trees on the shoreline.

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 would be a mistake.
Dec 2015
A sandy shore with rocks and green trees are next to a body of water.

Canadians deserve legal right to healthy environment

 It’s time for Canada’s laws to recognize that environmental rights are human rights.
Dec 2015
2 kayaks are paddled through water surrounded by trees. In the distance, the CN tower and Toronto buildings stand.

Environmental rights are human rights

This holiday season, stand up for environmental rights Today is International Human Rights Day.
Oct 2015
A sandy beach next to still, grey water.

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 connection between the environment and our human right to life, liberty, and dignity.
Oct 2015
A child drinks water that flows from a silver tap.

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 final stretch of the campaign trail, Justin Trudeau — Canada’s next prime minister and leader of a majority government — vowed to end boil-water advisories on First Nations reserves within the next five years.
Sep 2015
A lighthouse stands on a rocky cliff. The sun sets below the water.

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.
May 2015
A trailer sits on the shore near water. On its side and back there are signs that read

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 first reading in the Nova Scotia Legislature.
Apr 2015
A young child drinks water from a silver water fountain as water flows from the spout.

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, out of the Ecojustice archives in honour of Earth Day.
Nov 2014
Parliament buildings stand on top of a hill surrounded by green trees.

Making Sense of the Proposed Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights

There is some exciting news coming out of Ottawa this week.
Nov 2014
Devon Page stands and looks at the camera seriously. He wears a black suit jacket.

The right to a healthy environment: The next big thing

Canada’s environmental framework is broken.
Sep 2014
David Suzuki speaks and stands against a maple leaf background. He wears a red shirt and has white hair and a beard.

Are you ready for what’s next?

At Ecojustice, our work is rooted in environmental law.
Jan 2010
2 people stand in the still water near a shoreline. In the background are large mountains in the mist.

Restoring the Balance: Recognizing Environmental Rights in British Columbia

Environmental protection is the civil rights issue of this generation.