Strengthening the Canadian Environmental Protection Act

Report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development

Links:
NDP Supplementary Report
CEPA Report

On June 15th the Parliamentary Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development tabled in the House our report and recommendations on strengthening the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). It includes my Supplementary report.

Reviews of CEPA are required every five years by law. This report actually mirrors many of the recommendations made by the Committee back in 2007. It is high time the government enacted these reforms to ensure that Canadians' health and environment are protected from harm from toxic substances. Successive governments have failed to deliver measures called for by scientists, legal scholars and the very officials responsible for preventing any harm caused by toxins.

The report recommends enacting the right to a healthy environment and expanded rights to Canadians to have a greater voice in the control of toxins. It calls for new requirements to protect vulnerable persons, and to impose strict timelines for completing the review and actions to regulate substances deemed to be toxic. Strong evidence was heard for the need to address cumulative impacts of toxins, in particular those that bioaccumulate or are carcinogenic.

The included supplementary report from the NDP endorses calls for the enactment of a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights to apply to all federal laws related to the environmental rights and to enshrine the principles of environmental justice.

We also recommend that the mandatory duty imposed on the Minister of Health to address identified health risks posed by toxins be moved forward to Part 2 of the Act. This critical duty should not be buried in the Act but instead stated up front along- side provisions extending environmental rights. The public should also be extended the right to trigger the review of any substance.

Similarly, we support going beyond mere referencing Canada’s commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in the preamble, to enshrine these principles as substantive rights within the body of the Act, through a process of consultation with indigenous Canadians. This would respond to calls for measures to deliver on Articles 18 and 32(2) of the UNDRIP providing that Indigenous peoples have a right to participate in decision making in matters affecting their rights and that there be good faith consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples to obtain their free and informed prior consent for projects impacting their lands or resources. Many calls by Indigenous peoples for actions on toxins continue to go unaddressed. These include long requested studies on potential health impacts to their lands and peoples posed by toxic emissions or effluent.

Part 9 of CEPA, which deals with federal lands, operations and lands, as well as Aboriginal lands, received only scant attention during this study. Since its original enactment little action has been taken to fill the legislative and regulatory gaps that persist in the management of toxins emitted from or onto federal lands or operations. As provincial laws do not apply on for example national parks, federal protected areas or military reserves, the government should move expeditiously to fill this important legislative gap related to the production, emission, or disposal of or contamination by toxic substances.

We strongly endorse the recommendations to fill the void in management or control of toxic substances impacting Aboriginal lands and peoples. As action to address this gap has languished for decades, it is well past time the government made this a budget priority and kick-started a consultation with Aboriginal peoples on establishing and financing a protective regime.

We endorse calls for legally binding and enforceable federal standards for control of toxins. It is long past time to end reliance on Canada Wide Standards. These are merely non-binding guidelines that provide minimal protection against harmful substances.

Minimal time was allotted to reviewing the adequacy of current federal monitoring programs including for regional and cumulative impacts of toxins, regardless of the fact federal law provides for regional assessments. This merits greater attention and study, including addressing transboundary impacts of toxins.

Finally, as former Environment Minster Tom McMillan stated in tabling the original CEPA, “A good law, however, is not enough. It must be enforced-ruthlessly if need be.” An audit by the Commissioner for Environment and Sustainable Development recently raised a number of concerns with the effective enforcement of the law. The NAAEC commits this government to ensure effective enforcement of the law. Regrettably, the time allotted by Committee to review monitoring and enforcement did not allow adequate time to examine the current enforcement and compliance regime including consideration to issues identified by the Commissioner and strengthened measures arising from the 2009 Environmental Enforcement Act that amended nine environmental laws, including CEPA. It is recommended that the government initiate an open public review of its enforcement and compliance policies including testimony by regional enforcement officers, a process that has not been repeated since the early 1990s.

Links:
NDP Supplementary Report
CEPA Report