OTTAWA — A new federal government committee report recommends that the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) be amended to recognize, respect and fulfill every person’s right to a healthy environment. If passed by Parliament, this will be the first time in history that environmental rights have been recognized in Canadian federal law.
“This a breakthrough moment for Canada’s growing environmental rights movement,” said Ecojustice lawyer Kaitlyn Mitchell. “Environmental rights are human rights, and we applaud the committee for taking a clear, principled stance on the issue. This is a concept that transcends political lines and is fundamental to the advancement of a more just and equitable society.”
The report echoes the message thousands of Canadians have recently sent to their elected officials in Ottawa: The law must meaningfully protect every person’s right to a healthy environment, including clean air and safe water. The Standing Committee’s report reflects this growing groundswell of support and is a crucial step toward enshrining those rights in federal law. The committee report includes more than 80 other wide-ranging recommendations aimed at improving CEPA.
“These recommendations, if implemented, could have major tangible benefits for the health and well-being of all Canadians, and ultimately save lives,” said Peter Wood of the David Suzuki Foundation. “At least 15,000 Canadians die prematurely because of exposure to environmental hazards, and Canada ranks nearly last for environmental performance among the world’s wealthiest countries. We urge Parliament to bring this into law as soon as possible so we can start to reverse this.”
A recent study by the International Institute of Sustainable Development shows pollution costs Canada more than $39 billion annually. The report’s recommendations could provide a pathway to reducing this economic impact.
In addition to calling for recognition of a substantive right to a healthy environment in CEPA, the report recommends major improvements to procedural rights provisions in the law, including the right to know about, participate in and challenge environmental decision-making.
It has been nearly 20 years since the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the outdated federal law that regulates pollution and toxic chemicals, was last revised. It is currently under statutory review, creating a once-in-a-generation opportunity to significantly strengthen and modernize it to better protect human health and the environment.
Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna, and eventually Cabinet, will now consider the report. A bill is expected to be tabled in fall, with debate and voting to follow.
Ecojustice and the David Suzuki Foundation are partners in the Blue Dot Movement, a national campaign to advance the legal recognition of every Canadian’s right to a healthy environment. Since 2014, thousands of Canadians have mobilized to urge their governments to take action in support of environmental rights. To date, 153 municipalities across Canada — representing more than 40 per cent of Canada’s population — have passed declarations in support of the right to a healthy environment. There are 110 countries that recognize their citizens’ right to a healthy environment, but not yet Canada.
Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity, uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change and fight for a healthy environment for all.
The David Suzuki Foundation collaborates with Canadians from all walks of life, including government and business, to conserve our environment and find solutions that will create a sustainable Canada through science-based research, education and policy work.
Highlights of the report’s recommendations
- Consumers should have the right to know if toxic substances are present in the goods they buy.
- Legal minimums should be established for air and water quality standards (currently there are only non-binding objectives).
- Require annual reporting on the state of Canada’s environment, including environmental justice issues.
- Includes special protections for vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, First Nations and poor communities, in recognition that they are more likely to suffer from the effects of poor environmental health.
- Empower citizens to bring environmental civil actions, where government is found negligent in its duties, or when the Act is being violated.
- Provide greater resources to implement the Act.
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