Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'll do my best. Just so you know, I've submitted a lengthier version of my remarks to the committee. I'll just try to highlight a few things.
Thank you for having me. I've worked for many years on toxic pollution issues in Canada, both as a consultant to government and industry and also working with NGOs. I ended up doing quite a bit of work on mercury pollution. What I thought I would do, rather than spend a lot of time looking at specific details of CEPA, is highlight some examples using mercury that might provide us with some direct understanding of how precaution is being used or not used. I thought too that it's very hard to comment on precaution without also commenting on pollution prevention, which I think is a related concept and also something that is fundamental to CEPA.
In the paper I've provided a number of pages of background of the history of the previous CEPA review, comments made by the Commissioner for Sustainable Development since that CEPA review, and some comments on the scoping paper we have before us for this review.
To summarize it very quickly, it really seems that not a whole lot has changed since the last CEPA review. The same kinds of remarks that were raised then are being made today, and the same kinds of criticism around inaction are really still present.
I would say they fall under four main themes, the first being a lack of federal leadership, the second being an emphasis on industrial or economic interests and decision-making above ecological interests, the third being a lack of science-based decision making, and the fourth being a failure to implement pollution prevention and precaution. It's very hard to separate these, but I'm going to touch on a few of those things.
I also describe in a little bit of detail the story of mercury, which is really quite interesting. Canada has a long history of undertaking research and being active globally on mercury issues. In fact, we were a leader approximately 35 years ago in doing mercury research and attempting to address mercury in Canada. Unfortunately, over the past number of years and particularly the past decade, we've really fallen behind. I've provided a number of examples of restrictions and regulations and product bans globally that have taken place, but have not taken place in Canada.
The reason I'm raising the issue of mercury is that it's one of the most well-studied toxic substances. There's little doubt that it causes harm. Yet in the past decade, unlike most of Europe, the United States, and many other industrial countries, we have not issued any regulations on restriction of the use or emissions of mercury.
I think, looking at it, that if we cannot restrict mercury use under CEPA and apply precaution and pollution prevention, it seems unlikely that there's any substance we'll be able to regulate effectively under CEPA. This is because mercury really is a bellwether for how we address toxic substances.
I don't want to touch too much on federal leadership and authority. Perhaps that will come up in your other panels. But I should point out that the issues raised around the term “national cohesion” in the scoping paper present some concern. I think much of CEPA really has devolved responsibility to other organizations, other parties, and other jurisdictions. In fact I touch specifically on the CCME and the Canada-wide standards process, which really haven't delivered on the kinds of restrictions and regulations we see in most other industrial nations. So I've described some of those issues.
One of the reasons, again, we look at mercury as a good example where the federal government should be taking action and should be exercising its authority is that it's a global air pollutant. There are interprovincial trade issues. It's imported from other countries. We've signed numerous global agreements. The primary exposure pathway is through fish, which is a federal responsibility. It's found in medical devices, which are overseen by Health Canada. The Canadian Arctic is particularly at risk, and many first nations in the north are living well above WHO mercury risk levels.
So with the fact that all those things apply to mercury, we know more about it than almost any other substance. Yet still, for some reason, in Canada we're unable to apply concepts like precaution and prevention in terms of developing even a national strategy on how we're going to deal with mercury.
Ten years ago we were writing that Canada had fallen behind the rest of the industrial world, and in the intervening years very little has happened, whereas I point out in here that last year alone there were 251 mercury-related bills in the United States. That's after several years of mercury product regulations throughout the United States. So I think there's certainly reason to be concerned about these things.
I'll touch briefly on pollution prevention. Pollution prevention is referred to in almost every federal document relating to toxic substances management. The CCME describes pollution prevention as our toxic substance management policy, CEPA, and for good reason: it's a simple and powerful concept. Basically, pollution prevention says it's easier to not put things into products than it is to attempt to control the release of the substances at the end of the pipe.
Again, if we look specifically at examples of how we've implemented things--and I touch on quite a few in here, but I'll just use one example, which is mercury dental amalgams--we still have about three million grams of mercury imported into Canada each year going into people's teeth. The response under the Canada-wide standards, rather than looking at pollution prevention--even though we have easy alternatives, even though more than half of dentists no longer use it--has been pollution control. We set up a voluntary guideline for putting a little trap in the drain in dental offices to collect the mercury. So that's not pollution prevention; that's pollution control.
Mercury switches in cars, thermostats, and thermometers are all examples where pollution prevention could easily be applied. Alternatives exist. They're cost-effective. They're simple.
Again, if we can't do it where we have alternatives, where it is cost-effective, and where we know what we do about mercury, then really we question how we can implement any kinds of measures under CEPA around substances where there is greater uncertainty.
That really takes us to the issue of precaution. As I'm sure you all know, the precautionary principle is a specific response to uncertainty. What we've seen over a number of years is an increasingly rigid application of risk management and risk assessment, but particularly risk management, to the point where I would say, in Canada, we're interpreting risk management the way most other countries don't. Wherever there is any kind of uncertainty, even the slightest uncertainty around whether it's an exposure pathway, an emission, or the ecosystem response, it's continually used as an excuse to not act. That's a serious problem, and that's where precaution comes into play.
So when we look at all those things together, the need for some leadership at the federal level, the need to use tools, such as pollution prevention, that are cost-effective, and the need to better to understand issues around uncertainty and risk...particularly we're still referencing this notion of sound science in the scoping paper and we see sound science referenced in federal documents. “Sound science”, if you read any of the literature on it, was a term created by industry deliberately to interject uncertainty and doubt into decision-making. So the fact that we have “sound science” still in our federal documentation suggests that we're really lining ourselves up with the kind of language that industry uses deliberately to undermine action.
I think it's problematic. I did a survey of about 30 people across industry, government, NGOs, the legal profession, and academics. The only people who thought sound science was a valid word were the people in government. Even people in industry recognized it as a deliberate strategy to delay action.
That touches on a particular point I have some trouble with.
To conclude, I think the CEPA amendments must address federal accountability and toxic substances management in Canada. We're relying too much on voluntary efforts and on other governments. We've got references to first nations and other federal mechanisms. Clearly, they haven't worked in the past; there's no reason to expect they will work in the future. I think the review must address mechanisms that assert federal regulatory authority to manage toxic substances.
On pollution prevention, we really haven't used the mechanisms under CEPA to implement pollution prevention, even in the most obvious and cost-effective cases. CEPA needs to somehow be strengthened so that, in this regard, explicit direction and authority are provided to Environment Canada to implement pollution prevention.
Finally, on precaution and risk, I would say that CEPA has not facilitated precautionary action at all in Canada, particularly with respect to substances management. Unless we can address the inherent barriers to precaution, particularly our rigid application of risk management and false concepts such as sound science, I really don't think we will get there.
Perhaps the federal government should require that Environment Canada and Health Canada prepare some kind of internal guideline on understanding and incorporating uncertainty. It may help guide decision-making. We need to make sure that uncertainty isn't used as an excuse for inaction and that we truly apply precaution.
Given a survey of most countries, I would imagine that CEPA would be probably one of the least precautionary pieces of legislation dealing with toxic substances.
I'd be happy to answer any questions.
Thank you very much.