On the right track, but taking too long to get there

Ottawa, Ont. – Environmental and health groups welcome the federal government’s commitment to starting the process of updating Canada’s toxics law and introducing reforms as early as 2020. However, we are concerned that until the law is strengthened, avoidable threats to the environment and public health will continue.

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA), is nearly 20 years old and has largely failed to adequately address today’s sources of pollution and risks from toxic chemicals. In June 2017, the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development completed a comprehensive review of the act and made 87 recommendations for strengthening it. Today, the federal Environment and Climate Change and Health Ministers officially responded to the recommendations, making a commitment to overhaul the act and bring the law into the 21st century.

The ministers agreed with the intent of many of the committee’s recommendations and have promised to continue to consult with stakeholders and experts as they prepare for introducing legislative reforms. Although we are concerned about further delays to improve protections from toxics, the federal government’s response outlines a strong roadmap that would ensure meaningful and comprehensive reforms to this important law. The Ministers acknowledged that many Canadians would like to see the right to a healthy environment enshrined in federal law and committed to a consultation process to further study this issue over the next two years.

Environmental and health groups, scientists, community groups and chemical industry leaders called on the government to implement the committee’s recommendations and strengthen the law to protect human health and the environment and help position Canada as a world leader in green chemistry.

CEPA has been neglected for too long. Modernizing this cornerstone environmental law needs to be a priority to better protect Canadians and the environment from toxic chemicals and pollution.

“While stalling action until 2020 is disappointing, the federal government has finally vowed to overhaul the toxics law and has outlined a robust plan to do so,” said Muhannad Malas of Environmental Defence. “But until legislative reforms are introduced, we expect the government to take immediate steps to implement solutions such as full disclosure and labelling of consumer products containing toxics.”

“Until parliament strengthens CEPA, a troubling pattern of disregard for environmental justice and vulnerable people will continue,” said Elaine MacDonald of Ecojustice. “In the absence of a stronger law, children and marginalized communities, such as those who live near Ontario’s Chemical Valley, will continue to disproportionately bear the burden of pollution-related impacts.”

“People in Canada should have the right to a healthy environment,” said Peter Wood of the David Suzuki Foundation. “Tens of thousands of Canadians voiced their support for strengthening the act and recognizing environmental rights in law, as is the case in 150 countries. We will all be working hard to ensure that government fulfils its commitment to engage the public on this issue.”

Additional quotes from sign-on organizations:

“We are very disappointed that this government is not moving forward today with much-needed reforms to our outdated CEPA. The failure to take urgent action on pollution and toxic substances means women and their children who are disproportionately vulnerable to carcinogens, hormone disruptors and other toxic substances will remain exposed to these chemicals that wreak havoc on their health. We expect CEPA reform to be more than an election promise,” said Jennifer Beeman of Breast Cancer Action Quebec. “We will continue to be engaged stakeholders, ensuring that the government undertakes the reforms outlined here in their next mandate.”

“More than 85 per cent of Canadians are concerned about exposure to chemicals like BPA and triclosan from consumer products like receipts and shampoos and the majority believe that our federal toxics laws are inadequate.” said Annie Bérubé of Équiterre. “While the government’s commitment to reform CEPA is laudable, the protection of our health and the environment from harmful toxics remains at risk until comprehensive reform is complete.”

“We welcome steps that will improve protection against preventable diseases caused by exposure to toxic substances,” said Kim Perrotta of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. “Substantive reforms are urgently needed to reduce the human and financial costs of toxic-related illnesses.”

“When our regulators fail us, we are left to constantly worry about how toxic exposures in our workplaces, our homes, the food we eat and the products we use are impacting our health,” said Cassie Barker of Women’s Healthy Environments Network. “We shouldn’t need a degree in chemistry to understand how we can protect ourselves and our loved ones.”