Posted by Rashin Alizadeh, Counsel, Canadian Environmental Law Association on July 4, 2019
If you live in Ontario you have important rights about the decisions your government makes about the environment. You must be notified and given an opportunity to provide input before decisions are made on certain environmentally significant proposals. These public notice and participation rights exist under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR.) For many years, the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry (EBR Registry) has been the government’s online tool to facilitate this public input. Like all old websites, it needed an upgrade.
Enter the Environmental Registry of Ontario (ERO).The ERO updates and may ultimately replace the EBR Registry. This blog explains the transition to the new ERO, its new functions, and the remaining utility of the old EBR Registry.
The EBR registry, and now the ERO, serves as the primary public notice forum for certain government actions that are environmentally significant. It includes environmental bulletins and certain proposed amendments to policies, legislation, regulations, and instruments that are subject to the public notice and comment requirements of the EBR. An instrument is a notice submitted to a government ministry for a proposed activity by an individual, organization, or company. Examples of instruments include requests for permits, orders, exemptions, and licences. Once a decision has been made regarding notices posted to the registry, the decision is also posted.
In their role as the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, both Ellen Schwartzel and Dr. Dianne Saxe respectively, called for an overhaul of the EBR registry. This work was taken up by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (previously the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change) in 2015-2016, with the goal to transition from old technology that was difficult to access and use. The research and prototype was initiated in 2017, and the beta version of the ERO went live in February 2018. Since then, the Ontario Digital Service (ODS) has been improving the site through tests and surveys, migrating material from the old EBR registry, and expanding the utility of the new ERO.
For some time while the beta version was operating, there was a bifurcated system where instruments were posted to the old EBR registry, while legislation, regulations, and policies were posted to the ERO. However, beginning April 24, 2019, all new notices are posted to the ERO.
CELA along with other stakeholders was consulted during the development of the new ERO. We support the move to a more accessible and user friendly registry catered to members of the public in order to improve access to environmental justice.
There are a number of new features and changes to the site, some are small and others more significant:
- The new site is better able to operate on tablets and mobile devices
- Notice templates emphasize plain language
- A new mapping feature allows users to view notices by navigating to an area of interest and having the option to filter instruments which are open for comment or where decisions have been rendered
- Users can set up an account and track notices and comments
- Search fields are more forgiving of minor spelling mistakes, improving accessibility
- Site users can submit comments directly through the registry as well as include supporting links and attached documents
- Posting through an online account rather than emailing or mailing comments to the recipient ministry will ensure that comments accompany the subsequent decision posted online
- Each posting to the new registry is now identified by an ERO number instead of an EBR Registry Number
The old EBR registry currently serves as an archive. Whether a full migration will take place, and the form it will take, or whether the old site will continue to serve as an archive, is yet to be determined.
Adjusting to the new ERO may seem daunting, especially for veteran users of the EBR Registry. However, the new site can simplify searches and allow for better public access to information about environmentally significant decisions and participation in the decision-making process. The builders encourage continuous input if you have any suggestions or find any errors on the new site.