TORONTO — The David Suzuki Foundation and Ecojustice are urging Ontario’s government to stand up for Ontarians by strengthening the province’s Environmental Bill of Rights with a substantive right to a healthy environment.
The Ontario government announced that it plans to review the Environmental Bill of Rights, legislation passed in 1993 that outlines environmental rights in the province.
“When Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) came into effect more than 20 years ago, it was at the forefront of Canadian environmental law and policy,” said Ecojustice legislative affairs manager Pierre Sadik. “Today, however, it’s showing its age. Ontario has an important opportunity to recognize and protect every Ontario resident’s right to clean air and water, safe food and a healthy environment.”
To effectively address today’s most pressing environmental issues, Ontario’s EBR must recognize and protect a substantive right to a healthy environment. It should also strengthen existing procedural rights to improve access to justice and transparency around environmental investigations, Sadik said.
While procedural laws deal with transparency and public involvement in government decision-making, substantive laws establish the rights and obligations of individuals and the government.
“Indigenous, low-income and other marginalized communities unfairly bear the brunt of environmental harm in Ontario,” said David Suzuki Foundation Blue Dot government and partner relations manager Alaya Boisvert. “A modern, comprehensive EBR that includes a substantive right to a healthy environment would help these communities by giving them the legal tools they need to stand up for the people and places they love.”
For example, communities near Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, home to 40 per cent of Canada’s petrochemical industry, are exposed to high levels of air pollution. Residents, including the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, have expressed concern about health risks posed by pollution and have reported disproportionately high rates of asthma, miscarriage and some cancers. Community members have also been frustrated by a lack of government transparency, which has seen important pollution decisions made in secret.
Beginning July 11, the Ontario government has opened a 120-day comment period, during which Ontarians can submit feedback via email and regular mail.
The David Suzuki Foundation and Ecojustice are urging Ontarians to participate in this important public consultation.
“From coast to coast to coast, thousands of Canadians are inspiring all levels of government to acknowledge a basic truth: environmental rights are human rights,” Boisvert said. “This is our chance to make major progress on environmental rights in Ontario. Now’s the time to act. We can’t wait another 20 years.”
Ecojustice and the David Suzuki Foundation are partners in the Blue Dot movement, a national campaign to advance legal recognition of every Canadian’s right to a healthy environment. Thousands of Canadians have mobilized to urge their governments to take action in support of environmental rights.
More than 130 municipalities, including more than 50 across Ontario, have passed declarations in support of the right to a healthy environment.