Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights

An Act to enact the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights and to make related amendments to other Acts

Sponsor

Richard Cannings  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Outside the Order of Precedence (a private member's bill that hasn't yet won the draw that determines which private member's bills can be debated), as of Dec. 16, 2021

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-219.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment enacts the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights , which provides that every person residing in Canada has the following rights:
(a) the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment;
(b) the right to reasonable, timely and affordable access to information regarding the environment;
(c) the right to effective, informed and timely public participation in decision-making regarding the environment, including in relation to any Act of Parliament respecting the environment and any environmental policy of the Government of Canada;
(d) the right to bring a matter regarding the protection of the environment before courts or tribunals; and
(e) the right to request a review of any Act of Parliament respecting the environment, any instrument made under such an Act or any environmental policy of the Government of Canada.
The enactment also provides for an application by a person residing in Canada for an investigation by the responsible Minister of an offence under any Act of Parliament respecting the environment other than the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 . In addition, it provides for an environmental protection action to be brought by a person in respect of such an investigation as well as an environmental protection action to be brought by a person against a person who has contravened or is likely to contravene an Act of Parliament respecting the environment if certain conditions are met.
The enactment amends the Auditor General Act to allow petitions for the review of any Act of Parliament to be made respecting the environment, any instrument made under such an Act or any environmental policy of the Government of Canada.
The enactment amends the Federal Courts Act to allow an application for judicial review to be made by a person not directly affected by the matter in respect of which relief is sought if certain conditions are met, including the condition that the matter relate to the protection of the environment.
Finally, this enactment also amends the Canadian Bill of Rights to provide that the right of the individual to life, liberty and security of the person includes the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada ActGovernment Orders

October 31st, 2022 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Bonita Zarrillo NDP Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, like many times in our history, we are at a crossroads in regard to choosing the well-being of people over profits.

Too many times, government legislators have turned a blind eye to doing better to protect the health of people. Too many times, they have chosen to protect the profits of polluters and toxic industries because they did not know better or could not see the results of their choices manifesting in harmful ways in their very own communities.

Today, we are once again at that crossroad of opportunity to do better, or to carry on with the status quo that is harming people in the name of corporate greed and profits.

Over the past 50 years, science has told us, and cancer has shown us, that there are toxins in our bodies that should not be there. This is the fact of the matter, and this is what needs to be corrected. It is not just pollution in our air, water and land, but pollutants in our bodies, blood and breast milk exist. Pollutants that were put there by unregulated industry.

While I was preparing for this speech, I was reminded of the choice of the 36th Parliament that made pollution prevention planning discretionary and not mandatory under CEPA in 1999. That was a mistake a past Parliament made, and after 23 years, after eight Parliaments, this is a decision that this 44th Parliament must finally correct.

In those 23 years, only 25 toxic substances listed in the initial act have been subject to pollution prevention planning requirements. That is a rate of about one toxic substance every year. It will take 150 years for the existing list of toxins in the act to get a pollution prevention plan. As the Canadian Environmental Law Association stated, “This is a leisurely pace to addressing chemicals the federal government regards as the worst of the worst substances in the Canadian environment.”

Looking at it in decade-long timelines, it makes me wonder why Canadian governments have not done more before now to protect human health from known cancer-causing toxins. Every day 641 Canadians are diagnosed with cancer, and here we are, 23 years later, looking at the inadequacy of CEPA.

Canadians deserve better than the CEPA of the past, and it is the expectation of the NDP that this window of opportunity to improve environmental protections for Canadians and to offer them a right to a healthy environment is imperative to the health of us and of our children. We want a world where toxins being introduced into our bodies and the bodies of our children is not inevitable.

The NDP will be supporting the bill at second reading with the hopes that it can be substantially strengthened to reach that goal.

Bill S-5 is largely concerned with protecting the environment and human health from toxins and maintaining air and water quality. This is good, but there is widespread agreement that CEPA is overdue for substantial improvements. For one thing, it is widely considered to be unenforceable as it now stands, as there are multiple obstacles to enforcing it and remedies cannot be used by citizens. That needs to be corrected.

There are 159 countries around the world with legal obligations to protect the human right to a healthy environment, but Canada does not have those legal obligations. There are environmental bills of rights in Ontario, Quebec, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, but there is no federal law that explicitly recognizes the right to live in a healthy environment in Canada.

While Bill S-5 seems to be a step forward in recognizing the right to live in a healthy environment, there are serious concerns that this right will not be backed up by measures that improve the enforceability of the act. In fact, the Senate committee studying the bill reported just that.

As my colleague from South Okanagan—West Kootenay previously pointed out, Canadians deserve more power to ensure that their right to live in a healthy environment is upheld. That is one of the things that my colleague’s private member's bill, Bill C-219, would do.

Bill C-219 is titled an act to enact the Canadian environmental bill of rights, and it offers umbrella coverage to all federal legislation outside of CEPA. Specifically, it would give residents of Canada the right to, among other things, access information about environmental concerns, have standing at hearings, access tribunals and courts to uphold environmental rights and request a review of laws. It would also provide protection to whistle-blowers.

I encourage all members of the House to support Bill C-219 when it comes before the House in this session, because while it is good to see Bill S-5 here, it is important to note that adding the right to a healthy environment in a limited way under CEPA is not the same thing as ensuring, broadly, that all people have the right to live in a healthy environment, as is the goal of Bill C-219.

There remain troubling limitations in Bill S-5 on how the right to a healthy environment will be applied and how the right will be enforced. Without modernizing legislation to update chemicals management in Canada, and without the legal recognition of the right to a healthy environment, Canadians will continue to be exposed to unregulated and harmful chemicals.

Canadians are exposed to chemicals from polluting industries every day in the air, in the waters of our lakes, rivers and oceans, and even in the safety of our own homes in the products we use.

Canadians expect their government to take action to protect them and their families from toxic substances. They expect the government to ensure that all people have the right to live in a healthy environment. These are things New Democrats have been calling on the government to fix for years. While the government has chosen to do nothing, the number of chemicals that people in Canada are exposed to in their daily lives has grown exponentially.

There has been a 50-fold increase in the production of chemicals in the past 50 years, and that is expected to triple again by 2050. Personal care products are manufactured with over 10,000 unique chemical ingredients, some of which are either suspected or known to cause cancer, harm our reproductive systems or disrupt our endocrine systems. Even some disposable diapers have been shown to contain these harmful chemicals. Babies are being impacted.

Since CEPA was first enacted, Canada has also learned much more about the harmful cumulative effects of these toxic chemicals on our health. We now know that exposure to hazardous chemicals, even in small amounts, can be linked to chronic illnesses like asthma, cancer and diabetes. According to Health Canada, air pollution is a factor in over 15,000 premature deaths and millions of respiratory issues every year in Canada.

These toxins are impacting racialized communities even harder. Frontline workers, who are predominantly women or racialized, often have higher exposure to hazardous chemicals. Across Canada, indigenous, Black and racialized families are disproportionately negatively impacted by toxic dumps, polluting pipelines, tainted drinking water and other environmental hazards.

The former UN special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes stated, “The invisible violence inflicted by toxics is an insidious burden disproportionately borne by Indigenous peoples in Canada.” This is exactly why there must be a better enforcement mechanism in this bill so that communities, families and individuals can achieve the protection outlined in law.

One of the most disappointing and concerning gaps in this bill is that it does not touch on the citizen enforcement mechanism. As the member for Victoria has said in the House, “The citizen enforcement mechanism is, frankly, broken. It has never been successfully used. The process is so onerous that it is essentially impossible for a citizen to bring an environmental enforcement action. Without a functioning citizen enforcement mechanism, there are serious questions about how the right to a healthy environment can be truly enforced.”

There are also other critical gaps in Bill S-5. It lacks clear accountability and timelines for how toxic substances are managed. It lacks mandatory labelling so Canadians can make informed choices about the products they use. It does not fix loopholes that allow corporations to hide which toxic substances are in their products.

If we want to protect our health and the environment, we have to ensure that we are following the advice of scientists and experts, not the interests of big corporations. These big corporations, made up of some of Canada's biggest polluting industries, have been attempting to stop amendments to Bill S-5

Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada ActGovernment Orders

October 18th, 2022 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Madam Speaker, this act is largely concerned with protecting the environment and human health from toxins and maintaining air and water quality, but there is widespread agreement that CEPA is overdue for a substantial improvement. For one thing, it is widely considered to be unenforceable as it now stands, as there are multiple obstacles to enforcing it and remedies cannot be used.

A lot has happened in 23 years. New chemicals have been invented that potentially impact our health, and the public has been increasingly concerned about the health of our environment and the impact of it on our health and on the populations of animals and plants that we share the world with and depend on for our well-being. A poll in 2017 found that nine in 10 Canadians are concerned about exposure to toxins from consumer products, 96% agreed that labels should disclose the presence of those toxins in consumer products and 92% agreed that Canada should recognize the right to live in a healthy environment.

I would like to concentrate my remarks today on that final point: the right to live in a healthy environment. There are 159 countries around the world with legal obligations to protect the human right to a healthy environment, but Canada does not have those legal obligations. There are environmental bills of rights in Ontario, Quebec, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, but there is no federal law that explicitly recognizes the right to live in a healthy environment in Canada.

International efforts to recognize that right go back to the 1972 Stockholm declaration, which recognizes the right to “an environment of equality that permits a life of dignity and well-being”. Fifty years later, this past summer, on July 28, the UN General Assembly passed a unanimous resolution that recognized the right to a healthy environment around the world. With Canada voting for that resolution to finally join the rest of the world and with the 92% of Canadians agreeing with it, it is certainly high time that we had federal legislation that recognized this right. I am happy to say that Bill S-5 provides a step in that direction.

The preamble of CEPA will now include the following statement: “Whereas the Government of Canada recognizes that every individual in Canada has a right to a healthy environment as provided under this Act”. That is a good step, but there are limitations to that statement. For one, as the member for Repentigny mentioned, it is in the preamble where it does not really carry much legal weight. Also, the right is clearly restricted to the provisions of the act. In other words, it is around the control of toxins, air quality and water quality.

This new act would also state that those rights are “subject to any reasonable limits” and that those limits will be elaborated on in the implementation framework through “the consideration of relevant factors, including social, health, scientific and economic factors”. It is therefore important to see how these rights will be upheld. The implementation framework of this bill will apparently also elaborate on mechanisms to support that right.

While Bill S-5 seems to be a step forward in recognizing the right to live in a healthy environment, there are serious concerns that the right will not be backed up by measures that improve the enforceability of the act. In fact, the Senate committee studying the bill reported:

This committee would like to state their concern that the right to a healthy environment cannot be protected unless it is made truly enforceable. This enforceability would come by removing the barriers that exist to the current remedy authority within Section 22 of CEPA, entitled “Environmental Protection Action.” There is concern that Section 22 of CEPA contains too many procedural barriers and technical requirements that must be met to be of practical use. As Bill S-5 does not propose the removal or re-evaluation of these barriers, this Committee is concerned that the right to a healthy environment may remain unenforceable.

In discussions that I have had with top environmental lawyers about Bill S-5, I have heard more concerns that the implementation framework proposed in this bill would interpose the government between public rights and the remedies needed when those rights are violated.

My first suggestion would be that the bill be strengthened by giving the residents of Canada more power to ensure that their right to live in a healthy environment is upheld. That is one of the things that my private member's bill, Bill C-219, would do.

Bill C-219 is entitled the Canadian environmental bill of rights and will be debated later in this session. I would like to spend some time covering its provisions, because it suggests several ways Bill S-5 could and should be improved. I would like to mention here that Bill C-219 was drafted by my former colleague Linda Duncan, a brilliant environmental lawyer who was the MP for Edmonton Strathcona for many years. She introduced this same private member's bill four times during her career as an MP. It was never voted down but, unfortunately, died in each of those parliaments before becoming law.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the limitations of the right to a healthy environment proposed by Bill S-5 is that it is restricted to the provisions of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. It does not cover environmental protections outlined in other parts of the federal environmental mandate, such as the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Impact Assessment Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act, and so on. Bill C-219 would provide umbrella coverage to all federal legislation outside of CEPA. CEPA was carved out of Bill C-219, apparently to avoid clashing legislation.

On top of that wider coverage, Bill C-219 would provide stronger protections of the right to a healthy environment. Specifically, it would give residents of Canada the right to, among other things, access information about environmental concerns, standing at hearings, access tribunals and courts to uphold environmental rights, and request a review of laws. It would also provide protection to whistle-blowers.

To conclude, I reiterate that I will be supporting Bill S-5 at second reading, but I hope the government will look carefully at my bill to see how it might inform efforts to improve Bill S-5 in committee amendments. I also hope that if the government is serious about extending the right to live in a healthy environment to all Canadians, that it will support my bill, the Canadian environmental bill of rights, to extend and strengthen that right to the entire federal mandate.

Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada ActGovernment Orders

October 7th, 2022 / 10:15 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Terry Duguid Liberal Winnipeg South, MB

Madam Speaker, the hon. member is a leader in the area of environmental protection. I look forward learning more about Bill C-219. We would consider it at that time.

I just want to assure the hon. member that we are going to have a very robust process at committee. The minister and I, and others, have indicated that we are certainly open to strengthening the bill. The Senate did some excellent work, which I think we can build on. I want to thank the hon. member for the question.

Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada ActGovernment Orders

October 7th, 2022 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Madam Speaker, this is a bill that many of us have been waiting for for some time. It mentions, in its preamble, the right for Canadians to live in a healthy environment. I have a private member's bill, Bill C-219, which we will be hearing about later this fall, that talks about the environmental bill of rights, a right to live in a healthy environment, that would extend across the whole federal mandate, not just within CEPA, as this does.

Could the member comment on whether the government would consider amending Bill S-5 to take into account the stronger language from my bill about individual rights to live in a healthy environment, or even on whether the government would accept all the amendments that the Senate put forward? This bill needs to be fixed to be made more actionable when it comes to that right.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsRoutine Proceedings

December 16th, 2021 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-219, An Act to enact the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights and to make related amendments to other Acts.

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to table this bill today. I would especially like to thank Linda Duncan, the former member for Edmonton Strathcona, for championing the bill over 11 years in four Parliaments. I thank the present member for Edmonton Strathcona for seconding the bill today.

The bill would amend the Canadian Bill of Rights to add the right to live in a healthy and ecologically balanced environment. It enshrines that right in a new Canadian environmental bill of rights that would also provide, among other things, the right to access information about the environment and the right to public participation and decision-making regarding the environment. It brings Canada into line with more than 100 countries around the world that have rights to a healthy environment enshrined in their legal systems.

A healthy environment is an integral part of what makes Canadians proud of our country, and this bill would ensure that all of us have the right to live in a healthy and ecologically balanced environment.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)