December 2019 Bulletin

CELA’s December Bulletin – A Look Back at 2019!

Holiday Message from CELA’s Executive Director

Seasons greetings!  In this season of reflection, we take time to share with you a few key highlights from the past year.  The following summaries represent only a snapshot of CELA’s extensive work during 2019 to advocate for the rights of low-income and vulnerable individuals and communities.

I am very proud of the work of our staff and Board, all of our volunteers and students, and of the collaborative partnerships that allow us to leverage the critical work we do.

As we reach the end of 2019, our 50th anniversary is upon us!  To ensure a stronger and more sustainable CELA for the next 50 years, we have a renewed vision for our sister organization, the Canadian Environmental Law Foundation.  Stay tuned in 2020 for details of our 50th celebration!

We bring tremendous energy to 2020 and are excited to continue our good work together.

Theresa McClenaghan
Executive Director

Photo Credit: Kerrie Blaise

Update on Legal Aid Services Act

As we approached the end of December, the province of Ontario tabled a new Legal Aid Services Act.

One of the things that all of us in the legal aid clinic system in Ontario were looking for in that new legislation was explicit recognition of the importance of community legal clinics and our independent boards of directors within the legal aid framework.   We were gratified to see provision for independent legal aid clinics in the draft legislation.

While we and our colleagues will be suggesting improvements to the legislation such as restoration of a purpose statement that recognizes low income and vulnerable communities, and other matters, we think that the proposed legislation has the potential to provide a good foundation for clinic law in Ontario.

We also appreciated that the province has advised that Legal Aid Ontario’s budget for next year will not be further cut as anticipated. However, we continue to advocate that the province restore the $133 million that was lost to the whole Legal Aid system in the budget in the spring of 2019.

In the meantime, CELA has been very gratified by the outpouring of support for our work over the past several months!

The Critical Role of CELA – In Your Words

Earlier this year, we reached out to our client community to understand the value of CELA’s work to them and their communities.  We were overwhelmed with the response, demonstrating the immense value of our staff efforts to these communities.  Here are some excerpts…

“Without CELA, many First Nations including ours would lose the opportunity to have legal advice provided to our community to determine the next level of response. Presently, First Nations do not have the financial resources to address specific concerns in a legal sense. Additionally, First Nations are developing their own (including MFN) environmental management plans and laws and CELA is a valuable resource to provide information, materials and in some cases legal representation.”

– Keith Sayers, Lands and Resources Program Manager, Mississauga First Nation

“Quite literally CELA saved our lives. We know from hiring an international atmospheric expert that living downwind of a permanent asphalt plant could have severe health consequences, especially in our children. Our hydrogeologist predicted that it was only a matter of time before our groundwater was irreversibly contaminated. We could never have afforded to fight this multinational company on our own.”

– FACT (Friends Addressing Concerns Together)

“Without CELA our organization would not have been able to afford the legal fees associated with hiring independent counsel to appear at the then OMB hearing of our matter, or the continued legal fees to ensure our local municipal governments take all steps necessary to ensure our groundwater is not contaminated by hydrocarbons from a nearby, decommissioned, gas station. 

CELA offers an invaluable resource to communities like ours, who have legitimate concerns regarding their groundwater and environment. Many of these communities are in small, rural settings where the population is not affluent or sufficient in number to mount a concerted fund raising effort and therefore it is not possible for the residents to afford legal counsel. Simply raising funds for experts can take everything a community has. CELA provides an option for these communities and in a system where lack of legal representation is a clear disadvantage.” 

– Hartington Community Association

Photo Credit: Kerrie Blaise


Protecting Our Drinking Water

Lead in Our Drinking Water

CELA’s work on lead was a valuable resource to the recent Canada-wide investigation revealing dangerous levels of lead in our drinking water.  Our recently published report makes multiple recommendations to protect Canadians, including asking the province of Ontario to change legislation to require a minimum of 75% of municipal lead service lines to homes be replaced within 3-5 years.

For many years, CELA has focused on the greater vulnerability of the fetus and child, to lead and other toxic substances, particularly addressing the greater exposure that can occur under low income circumstances.

Digging Holes in Ontario

CELA recently filed submissions in response to government proposals to change the Provincial Policy Statement and the Aggregate Resources Act.  The changes would dilute or remove key provisions that protect farmland, air quality, and drinking water resources, as outlined in a recent blog post by CELA lawyer Rick Lindgren.  CELA hosted a webinar earlier this year, attended by over 150 participants, providing an in-depth review of the proposed changes.

CELA Works to Protect Residents’ Drinking Water

Landfills can cause significant impacts on public health and the environment, including contamination of drinking water sources, impairment of surface water resources, degradation of local air quality, and release of greenhouse gas emissions.

CELA often serves as counsel for clients in relation to existing or proposed landfill sites.  For example, this year we continued to represent a residents’ group in southeastern Ontario that is working closely with a First Nation community in order to address groundwater contaminants that have moved off-site from a closed private landfill onto neighbouring properties.

In November, CELA’s client, Citizens Against Melrose Quarry, participated in the second pre-hearing conference held by the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal  in relation to a proposed quarry in Tyendinaga Township in southeastern Ontario. The group is concerned about quarry activities adversely affecting the shallow aquifer that serves as the sole source of drinking water in the area.

CELA also represented the Friends of Simcoe Forests in a case before the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal regarding an approval by the County of Simcoe and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing of a waste processing complex in the middle of the Freele County Forest.

Photo Credit: Kerrie Blaise

Minister Revokes Landfill Approval at Request of CELA Client

For several years, CELA has represented a residents’ group, Citizens Against the ED-19 Dump, that is opposed to a proposed municipal landfill in eastern Ontario.

This landfill received an environmental assessment (EA) approval in 1998, but it was never built for various reasons. After a private waste disposal company recently expressed interest in acquiring the site and constructing the landfill, CELA’s client applied to the provincial Environment Minister to reconsider and revoke the 21 year-old EA approval.

In December 2019, the Minister decided that it was in the public interest to revoke the outdated approval, and CELA commends the Minister for this precedent-setting decision.

Healthy Great Lakes Webinars

CELA’s Healthy Great Lakes program hosted a series of webinars this fall that were very well-received.

A review of the proposed changes to the Provincial Policy Statement and the Aggregate Resources Act was attended by over 150 citizens, ENGO’s, media, health organizations, and government staff.

CELA partnered with the Federation of Ontario Cottagers Association to host a webinar in early December about Ontario’s septic re-inspection programs.  Attended by over 100 people, the webinar featured the author of a newly released report, Dr Sarah Minnes, from the University of Saskatchewan.

The Healthy Great Lakes program has also supported a series of digital conversations about toxic substances and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, including informed substitution, worker exposure, and chemical management planning.

Environmental Health

Urgent Action is Needed on PFAS – the Forever Chemicals

The class of chemicals called PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) are often referred to as “the forever chemicals” because they are highly persistent in the environment and will take hundreds if not thousands of years to disappear from soil and groundwater.  CELA is shining a light on the dangers and health impacts of these chemicals in our newly released report, and have prepared an excellent blog about the need for concern.

A Victory on Bill 66

Earlier this year, environmental groups, farm organizations, MPPs and residents across Ontario strongly opposed Schedule 10 of Ontario’s Bill 66, which posed environmental and public health risks by allowing municipalities to pass “open-for-business planning by-laws” that would be exempt from key provisions of the Clean Water Act, Greenbelt Act, and other provincial laws.  In response to public outcry and opposition, the Standing Committee voted against Schedule 10, thereby removing it from Bill 66, a decision supported by CELA.

Airborne Pollutants

In 2019, CELA continued to represent Ontarians who were impacted by, or concerned about, exposures to air pollutants and noxious odours from industrial and commercial facilities.  For example, CELA participated in administrative proceedings on behalf of a person who suffered material discomfort and other adverse effects due to airborne contaminants discharged from a neighbouring manufacturing facility.

Photo Credit: Kerrie Blaise

Advancing Environmental Health Indoors

RentSafe Collaboration Expands Resources for Tenants

The RentSafe project, begun in 2014, arose from CELA’s focus on children’s environmental health and recognition that exposure to toxic substances and other hazards often occur indoors with the greatest concern for children and families living on low income or who are otherwise marginalized.

Three years of baseline research identified top indoor health priorities for tenants, notably problems with mould and pests in substandard housing (e.g., see our fact sheet for tenants about bed bugs and pesticides). To address mould issues in housing, the RentSafe team worked closely with physicians, public health experts and others to develop helpful resources for physicians and tenants.

Next steps include an expanded collaboration among several specialty and general service legal clinics, and the Clinic Resource Office, to develop resources to assist tenants addressing mould in legal proceedings.

Ensuring Climate Policy Protects Vulnerable Communities

Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Appeals

On behalf of environment and faith groups based in Ontario, CELA recently received permission from the Supreme Court of Canada to intervene in two carbon pricing appeals that will be heard in March 2020. The appeals focus on whether the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is within the federal government’s constitutional authority.

Earlier this year, CELA represented our clients in the constitutional references held by the Courts of Appeal for Saskatchewan and Ontario, and both courts upheld the constitutionality of the federal law.

In addition, CELA hosted a webinar summarizing these references and explaining why they matter to our client communities.

Protecting Environmental Human Rights

Source Water Legal Toolkit for Indigenous Communities

With funding from the Law Foundation of Ontario, CELA collaborated with the tri-nation of Chippewas of the Thames First NationOneida Nation of the Thames, and Munsee-Delaware to create an Indigenous Source Water Protection Toolkit.

Community members expressed that their traditional use and enjoyment of the Thames River had been diminished because of threats from adjacent industrial and agricultural land uses and historical degradation due to illegal dumping and spills.

The toolkit – intended as a public legal resource for any Indigenous community – is comprised of bylaws aimed at protecting source waters, a consultation and accommodate protocol which integrates source water protection monitoring and oversight provisions, and guidance documents regarding citizen environmental rights and opt-in provisions within the Clean Water Act.

Legal Services in Northern Ontario

Throughout 2019, CELA continued to provide direct legal services in Northern Ontario to communities and low-income citizens seeking environmental justice.

CELA extends a warm thanks to our community legal aid clinic colleagues in the North who have welcomed CELA’s Northern Services counsel, Kerrie Blaise, and provided much appreciated office and public meeting space. With their assistance, we’ve been able to meet with clients from Thunder Bay to Timmins, and provide legal services to some of the most underserved areas of the province.

Working in collaboration with community groups and many First Nation communities, CELA remains committed to advancing environmental justice in Ontario’s North.

Chronic Disability and Environmental Triggers

CELA worked with our sister specialty legal clinic, the ARCH Disability Law Centre, to lay out the legal rights and challenges faced by those with chronic disabilities triggered by environmental factors, including through a human rights lens. Our report makes several recommendations including endorsing the recommendations in the Final Report of Ontario’s Task Force on Environmental Health.