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press release

Virtual Hill Days call on federal government to keep its promise to strengthen toxics and pollution law 

November 23, 2020

Environmental, health and clean cosmetics groups ask for immediate reform to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act

Ottawa, Ont. – Parliament must prioritize reform of the outdated Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), says a coalition of environmental, physicians, women’s health and clean cosmetics advocacy groups. The groups are organizing Virtual Days on the Hill for a Toxic-Free and Healthy Environment this week. Hundreds of concerned citizens are joining forces to call on the federal government to fulfil its promise to reform the country’s two-decade old pollution prevention and toxic chemicals law. 

For many years, Canadians have demanded meaningful government action to protect vulnerable and marginalized communities from toxic exposures, ban chemicals that cause cancer and hormone disruption, recognize our right to a healthy environment, and require better disclosure of hidden toxics in cosmetic fragrances and other products.

The government’s election platform and recent throne speech included a commitment to modernize CEPA, but without any clear timeline. CEPA modernization was one of two environmental legislative priorities highlighted in the Speech from the Throne.

In 2017, following extensive hearings, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development made 87 recommendations for strengthening CEPA. During the “Virtual Days on the Hill,” groups are urging the federal government to implement these recommendations without further delay.

A House of Commons Petition to strengthen CEPA, signed by more than 8000 Canadians, was submitted last week. The government must respond within 45 days.

Additional information: view briefing note


QUOTES from groups:

Gregg Renfrew, Founder and CEO, Beautycounter:

“Today’s consumers demand safer products and they deserve them. While companies like Beautycounter are meeting this demand, we cannot change the industry alone. Parliament must act quickly to introduce CEPA reform and ensure businesses like ours can thrive while protecting the health of consumers and the environment.”

Jennifer Beeman, Executive Director, Breast Cancer Action Quebec:

“There is no longer any doubt that toxic chemicals, including endocrine disruptors, are causing breast cancer. They are also responsible for a myriad of other growing health problems including neurological and reproductive disorders. Women, particularly those in vulnerable populations, bear a far greater burden of chemical exposures as well as being put in the impossible position of trying to protect themselves and their families from exposure to toxic chemicals. This government must undertake a serious reform of CEPA if they are to live up to the feminist principles they claim to hold.”

Dr. Samantha Green, Family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and Inner City Health Associates in Toronto and Board Member of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment:

“Exposure to toxics is connected to chronic health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory illnesses – and people living in poverty, like many of my patients, often have the highest toxic exposure. CEPA reform is urgently needed to ensure the health of my patients, especially in this moment when COVID-19 is taking such a toll on people whose health is already compromised.”

Joseph Castrilli, Counsel, Canadian Environmental Law Association:

“Hazardous substances pose a greater risk to vulnerable populations including people of low income, workers, racialized groups, Indigenous communities, women and children. They deserve to be better protected through a stronger environmental health law. This can happen if the Canadian Environmental Protection Act is strengthened towards greater focus on prevention using safe substitutes and creating new obligations for environmental rights. CEPA was last amended over 20 years ago and is overdue for reform. Evidence of environmental harm from hazardous substances shows its necessary for changes to CEPA.”

Lisa Gue, Senior Researcher and Analyst, David Suzuki Foundation:

“The Canadian Environmental Protection Act will set the parameters for a green recovery from COVID-19, so action to strengthen it must not be delayed. CEPA provides the legislative framework for federal action on greenhouse gases, plastics, industrial emissions and more. Integrating a human rights perspective – the right to a healthy environment – will ensure that all people in Canada benefit from environmental protections.”

Dr. Elaine MacDonald, Healthy Communities Program Director, Ecojustice: 

“CEPA is Canada’s cornerstone environmental law, but it is out of date and failing to adequately protect Canadians from 21st-century pollution and toxic chemicals. Good laws protect the health and wellbeing of all Canadians, and it is the role of elected officials to make sure that these laws work. While Canada continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that CEPA is modernized to protect public health from dangerous pollution and harmful substances.”

Muhannad Malas, Toxics Program Manager, Environmental Defence:

“Reforming CEPA is not only an important step in reducing the burden of chronic illnesses, it’s also a fundamental step in tackling environmental and racial injustice when it comes to exposure to pollution. The federal government must move quickly to introduce a bill that will meaningfully protect vulnerable and marginalized communities from toxic chemicals in our air, water and consumer products.”

Melanie Langille, Director of Program Development (Environmental Health), Foundation for Resilient Health:

“It is essential for the health of Canadians that we have a modernized CEPA that explicitly protects the most vulnerable from toxic exposures. Most concerning are those toxins that cause illnesses in children even at low doses. The new CEPA must also recognize the importance of increasing protection for Canada’s natural habitats so as to provide a richly biodiverse environment. This is essential for increasing the resiliency of Canadians for generations to come.”

Mark Butler, Senior Advisor, Nature Canada:

“The federal government is considering only minor or housekeeping changes to Part 6 of CEPA which regulates genetically engineered animals. Housekeeping is not what is required in the face of major developments in genetic engineering and the risk these new technologies have for nature and Indigenous Peoples’ rights.”

Cassie Barker, Executive Director, Women’s Healthy Environments Network:

“Canadians have waited long enough for this government’s promises on toxics to be turned into real, progressive action – and the timing could not be more urgent, with the links between air pollution, lung health and COVID-19 rates. We look forward to a stronger CEPA that holds companies accountable for safer cosmetics and consumer products, and healthier communities.” 


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About DAVID SUZUKI FOUNDATION (davidsuzuki.org): The David Suzuki Foundation is a leading Canadian environmental non-profit organization, collaborating with all people in Canada, including government and business, to conserve the environment and find solutions that will create a sustainable Canada through evidence-based research, public engagement and policy work.

About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE CANADA (environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.

Ecojustice goes to court and uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment. Its strategic, innovative public interest lawsuits lead to legal precedents that deliver lasting solutions to Canada’s most urgent environmental problems. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, Ecojustice operates offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax.

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) is a group of physicians, allied health care practitioners and citizens committed to a healthy and sustainable environment.

About FOUNDATION FOR RESILIENT HEALTH (resilient-health.ca):  The Foundation for Resilient Health supports strong policies that will reduce social and health inequities in Canada. Through research, advocacy and public engagement RESILIENT strives to promote healthy environments and people able to adapt, thrive, and meet future challenges for years to come. 

Breast Cancer Action Québec (BCAQ) is a grassroots feminist environmental health group founded in 1991. Our goals are to reduce toxic exposures linked to breast cancer, educate on breast cancer prevention and empower vulnerable populations on environmental health issues. BCAQ works with a wide range of local, regional and national organizations on issues related to breast cancer prevention and risk reduction, environmental causes of breast cancer, social inequalities of health, health empowerment for young people, and many other issues. 

The Canadian Environmental Law Association is a specialty legal clinic within the Ontario-wide network of clinics funded by Legal Aid Ontario. CELA provides free legal services to people and groups across Ontario that qualify for legal aid. Through case work, law reform, public legal education and community outreach, we work to protect human health and our environment by seeking justice for those harmed by pollution and by working to change policies to prevent such problems in the first place.  As a Legal Aid Clinic our top priority is to represent low income individuals and communities and to speak out for those with less influence and who receive less of a say in decision-making.

Nature Canada is one of the oldest national nature conservation charities in Canada. For 80 years, Nature Canada has helped protect over 110 million acres of parks and wildlife areas in Canada and countless species. Today, Nature Canada represents a network of over 100,000 members and supporters and more than 800 nature organizations.

Founded in 2013, Beautycounter is the North American leader in the safer skin care and cleaner cosmetics category.  Through a disruptive approach to business, we are building a national movement for improved transparency and accountability in the beauty industry, including policy advocacy in the U.S. and Canada to update laws governing chemicals and personal care products.

 WHEN (Women’s Healthy Environments Network) engages and educates individuals and communities to reduce risk of illness and injury that can occur from the products we use, the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. We use the influence and knowledge of women to become champions for change. Since 1994, WHEN has been educating the general public, media and policy makers that environmental health is a key determinant of public health and has promoted public action for the prevention of environmental health harms.