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News & Activities
Provincial budget cuts legal aid
The recently announced cuts to legal aid in the provincial budget are extremely disturbing. Although we don’t yet have the specifics regarding the cuts, if they are of the magnitude reported (i.e. $133M or approximately 30 per cent of legal aid’s budget this year), they will have a devastating impact on legal aid services for low- and moderate-income Ontarians. This government, and Premier Doug Ford personally, made a commitment that no cuts would be made to front line services/jobs.These cuts would certainly have a direct impact on front line services/jobs.
Community legal clinics are small, storefront offices, in every community in this province—with no bureaucracy or administrative fat to trim. They are managed by lawyers who appear in courts and tribunals on behalf of clients every day. They are non-profit organizations, governed by volunteer boards of directors drawn from the local community. Everyone in each of the 72 community clinics in Ontario deals directly with clients. A cut of this size would substantially decrease the services clinics provide to their communities.
We are calling on Attorney General Caroline Mulroney to make a commitment to access to justice, and to respect the commitment of her government not to decrease front line services, and to confirm that funding for community clinics will not be decreased.
Responding to Ontario’s waste discussion paper
The Ontario government recently released a Discussion Paper that outlined proposed measures to reduce waste and litter throughout the province. In response, CELA teamed up with several other non-governmental organizations to jointly file a brief that emphasized the need for effective waste reduction initiatives, including the timely implementation of extended producer responsibility programs for various products and packaging. For environmental and public health reasons, the groups’ brief also objected to the Discussion Paper’s misguided endorsement of “thermal treatment” (e.g. incineration) as a means of diverting waste materials from landfills.
Improving proposed emission performance standards
CELA counsel Jacqueline Wilson and Jessica Karban submitted comments on the development of Industrial Emission Performance Standards. Climate change is a serious equity issue, affecting low-income people disproportionately and exacerbating existing vulnerabilities. We are encouraged that the Ontario government has proposed a carbon pricing mechanism to address Ontario’s industrial emissions, although the ambition of the program should be significantly increased to achieve more than 2.7 mT of GHG emissions by 2030. The current proposal must be updated to include provisions to ensure independent auditing, government reporting on the success of the program, sanctions and penalties, enforcement provisions, Ministry investigations, and enforcement officers.
Filipino protesters march to Canadian Embassy in Makati City in the Philippines on April 29th to demand re-export of illegal garbage shipments. (Credit: Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition of the Philippines)
Canada called out for dumping waste in the Philippines
CELA has again written to PM Trudeau joining calls from our international partners and the EcoWaste Coalition of the Philippines for Canada to honour its obligations under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. A detailed legal opinion confirms that Canada is violating this international treaty by refusing to take back thousands of tons of wastes, originating in Ontario, illegally labeled as clean plastic for recycling, and shipped by a private company to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014. Under the Basel Convention, Canada should have remedied this situation within 30 days of the problem being discovered. Six years has passed and about 75 per cent of the waste-laden containers languish in two port cities in the Philippines.
Canada’s “recycling exemption” in POPs treaty leads to toxic flame retardants in toys and consumer products
Allied with our international NGO partners, CELA has written to the federal government urging an immediate end to Canada’s “recycling exemption” in an international treaty on toxics. The exemption under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) allows plastic consumer products containing toxic substances on the Canadian market, as confirmed by tests on multiple products. Canada is one of the few countries with a recycling exemption for polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), flame retardant chemicals banned in multiple countries, including Canada, and added to the POPs treaty in 2004. The exemption allows plastic materials into the recycling stream until 2030. The resulting contamination allows these banned chemicals in products made from recycled plastic, posing a threat to public health, especially to children and fetuses, in utero.
CELA lawyer Richard Lindgren (L) and University of Ottawa Law Professor Stewart Elgie (R) prepare to testify before the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources on April 2, 2019. (Credit: Kathleen Cooper)
Improving the Impact Assessment Act in Bill C-69
CELA counsel Richard Lindgren appeared at the Senate hearings on the Impact Assessment Act in Part 1 of the proposed Bill C-69. Although we strongly support legislation that fully implements the federal government’s objective of restoring public trust in national assessment processes, the proposed law falls short of meeting this laudable goal and must therefore be amended before it is enacted.
Strengthening the draft Federal Sustainable Development Strategy
CELA joined Greenpeace Canada in making a submission to the federal government regarding its draft Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (2019-2022). We made several recommendations, such as removing nuclear energy from the Strategy’s definition of “clean energy”, applying the “polluter-pays principle” throughout the Strategy, and removing the mention of “SMR [small modular reactor] potential be explored” from the Strategy.
Photo by Jeff Wallace/Flickr
Consultation on increasing renewable content in fuels
CELA counsel Kerrie Blaise and Jessica Karban made a submission regarding a proposal to increase the renewable content (e.g. ethanol) in gasoline to 15 per cent by 2025. The proposal, made by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, might provide a short-term strategy for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but does not address the fundamental challenges of climate change. Moreover, we raised concerns that any measures to mandate greater biofuel content in gasoline should avoid bio-based sources that are environmentally destructive, notably palm oil. CELA also encouraged incentives and complementary approaches to reducing GHGs in the transport sector.
Canada’s inaction on the Labour Code radon reference level
CELA has again raised concerns with the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour about the long overdue revision for the radon reference level in the Canada Labour Code (CLC). Despite repeated promises since at least 2013 to revise the CLC, no action has yet been taken. We pointed out that the federal government’s work on radon is undermined by this inaction. In this related blog, CELA senior researcher and paralegal Kathleen Cooper and legal intern Christina Persad explain what this oversight means to Canadians.
Commenting on the public trust of Canada’s agricultural sector
We commented on the Agriculture and AgriFood (AGRI) Committee’s review of Perception of and Public Trust in the Canadian Agricultural Sector. We requested that the committee consider the corresponding matter of perception of and public trust in Canada’s regulation of pesticides.
On the CELA blog
Photo: The Supreme Court of Canada by Joanne Clifford/Flickr
Access to environmental justice in Canada
Environmental justice is usually described as the principle that environmental benefits and burdens should be equitably distributed among all persons, rather than allowing the majority of adverse impacts to be unfairly imposed upon poor people, visible minorities, or marginalized communities. CELA counsel Richard Lindgren outlines the ways these important protections might evolve in the future.
Bill C-69 Update: The Countdown Clock Continues
Bill C-69 was passed by the House of Commons in June 2018, and was then referred to the Senate. If enacted before the next federal election, the Bill will alter several existing Acts that concern the environment. A Standing Senate Committee is holding public hearings on Bill C-69 in a number of other Canadian cities to obtain public feedback. In early April, CELA submitted a detailed brief to the Committee that identified various shortcomings in the proposed Bill. CELA counsel Richard Lindgren explains what we can expect to see over the next few months. Although we strongly support legislation that fully implements the federal government’s stated objective of establishing national assessment processes, the drafted legislation falls short of meeting these laudable objectives.
Proposed changes to Crown liability in Ontario’s budget bill
In Ontario, regulatory negligence claims may be brought against the government by aggrieved persons seeking compensation for loss, injury or damages arising from careless conduct by provincial officials, agents and servants. However, schedule 17 of Bill 100 proposes to replace the current Proceedings Against the Crown Act with the Crown Liability and Proceedings Act, 2019. This new legislation could bar certain actions against the Crown and its agents in the course of carrying out their duties as public regulators. CELA law student Sara Desmarais and CELA student-at-law Rashin Alizadeh outline on how these changes could affect the environment.
May 2019: Keep an eye out for CELA’s online survey
CELA is working with university researchers and other Canadian environmental and conservation groups to learn from people who care deeply about protecting Canada’s environment. The goal of this survey is to understand the experiences influencing the environmental attitudes and beliefs among supporters of these groups. We’ll be sending survey invitations to some of our supporters and Bulletin subscribers over the next few weeks. If you receive an invitation, we hope you’ll participate. We can’t do this research without your help!
Q&A with CELA’s Northern Services counsel Kerrie Blaise
Photo: Kerrie Blaise is CELA’s Northern Services counsel.
What is it like to provide legal services in northern Ontario?
Northern Ontario is a vast region, comprising the majority of Ontario’s land mass. It has a history of extensive resource extraction and in light of proposed mining developments and changes to the management of Crown resources, such as forests, there’s a critical need for sustainability-based decisions. Providing legal services in the North means that actions aimed at improving the environmental safeguards or oversight of one extractive industry can actually affect the region, its communities and environment as a whole.
Providing legal services in the North has also allowed us to connect and work more closely with our colleagues at other legal aid community clinics, to address issues affecting indoor environmental health and quality For instance, we’ve been actively sharing our legal educational resources, including the RentSafe and Low-Income Energy Network toolkits, with front-line legal aid service providers so they can help alleviate the lack of adequate healthy housing and enhance access to affordable energy.
We have also prioritized public legal education in the North, especially relating to citizen environmental rights. From presentations at libraries, arenas and local community centres, audiences have been very receptive to understanding how their environmental rights, protected in the Environment Bill of Rights, can enable their participation in environmentally significant decision-making processes.
Who should get in touch with you?
Since the launch of our Northern services program, we have reached out to citizen groups and community leaders, colleagues at Northern-based community legal clinics, Indigenous community members, and municipalities to gain a better understanding of their priorities and areas of concern. We welcome anyone interested in learning more about our work, wishing to invite CELA to their community hub, or seeking to retain our services to reach out to us.
What types of environmental legal services does CELA offer?
CELA provides direct legal services, meaning we provide free representation to those who are unable to afford legal representation, provided they qualify for legal aid. Direct client services range from representation at local planning appeal tribunals, regulatory hearings to appeals.
We also provide summary advice, meaning we can provide general information or suggestions in dealing with your legal issue. When an individual or organization contacts CELA, we will assess the legal issues involved and advise on whether we can provide legal services (including whether they qualify for legal aid services) or whether we can assist on a summary basis.
CELA’s legal team also speaks at public legal education (PLE) events. PLE topics can range from how-to workshops on navigating environmental assessment processes, to sharing community-based legal tools which advance source water protection in Indigenous communities. While each of our PLE’s respond to an issue of relevance or interest to the host community, they’ve also revealed — through communication with audience members — other local issues, areas of concern and the potential for future PLE topics.
What are the biggest challenges about working in northern Ontario?
It’s not the region’s remoteness or its size but rather the persistent and inequitable gap of access to legal services for Northerners. Many municipalities lack general counsel and due to capacity, are often unaware of or unable to weigh in on laws and policies which affect their community. We have also met with many First Nation communities who have expressed “consultation fatigue” and an inability to fully respond to all requests for participation, despite acknowledging potential impact on their Treaty rights.
As a public interest organization, we are fortunate to work with entire communities and are not limited to direct client services. This means that despite a community’s remoteness, whether through communications on our website, our monthly newsletter and our ever growing contact list, we can raise the profile of issues which may directly affect their town, such as Bill 66 which threatened to exempt businesses from source water protection plans, or the federal government’s support for siting small modular nuclear reactors in remote, Northern communities.