January 2021 Bulletin

Significant Reform of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act Critical to Protecting our Most Vulnerable Communities

As we begin 2021, the coming year offers many opportunities to advance environmental health and environmental justice. Coincident with US President Biden’s Executive Orders calling for sweeping reforms to advance environmental justice and fight climate change, we can look to key commitments from our federal government’s September 2020 Throne Speech. These commitments, reinforced by funding signals in the Fall Economic Statement, prioritize policies to address the climate crisis as central to a green recovery from the pandemic. Likewise, the Throne Speech signals key legislative reform including climate legislation (already introduced) and reform of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).

We are ready! CEPA is Canada’s principle environmental law intended to address pollution prevention, control of toxic substances and products of biotechnology, air and water pollution, hazardous wastes, environmental emergencies, and more.  CELA has a long history of analysis and critique of CEPA noting the need for greater precaution in regulating toxic substances and, in particular, this law’s shortcomings in addressing the most vulnerable Canadians – children, people living on low income, workers, Indigenous communities – who are disproportionately exposed to environmental contaminants. We seek fundamental and generational changes to CEPA and are ready with detailed proposals for reforming CEPA.

CELA will advocate for substantive changes to ensure CEPA is robust enough to truly protect our most vulnerable communities.  Achieving real change will require an engaged public willing to push the federal government to make substantive amendments, not just minor changes.  To that end, CELA hosted a 4-part informational webinar highlighting key issues for CEPA Reform, including: establishing environmental rights, requiring prevention strategies for toxic substances by applying informed substitution for safe alternatives, addressing endocrine disrupting substances and applying rigorous scientific reviews for substances under CEPA, and how to protect communities from the threats of biotechnology.

Read the rest of this blog post, including opportunities to address issues with plastic pollution through CEPA amendments.

 Bald Eagle spotted in South Etobicoke, January 2021.  Photo Credit: Pat Rice

Conservation Authorities, Land Use Planning & MZO’s – A Recap

It has been a wild ride since the Ontario government introduced Bill 229, the Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act (Budget Measures), 2020.  In a new blog post, CELA Special Counsel, Healthy Great Lakes,  Anastasia Lintner gives us a recap.  She talks about the enormous public opposition that arose in response to Schedule 6 of Bill 229 and its impacts on Conservation Authorities, what happened after Bill 229 was introduced, and what’s next for Conservation Authorities and land use planning in Ontario.

Key next steps will be watching for public consultation opportunities connected to the new Conservation Authority Working Group that has been tasked with considering the first phase of proposed regulations for Conservation Authorities.

For more in-depth information on how conservation authorities and Minister’s Zoning Orders are connected, and the importance of science-based planning to protecting Ontario’s clean water and air, check out this webinar hosted by Ontario Nature and Environmental Defence, with guest speakers David Crombie, former Chair of the Greenbelt Alliance, and Anastasia Lintner, Special Counsel, Healthy Great Lakes at CELA.

CELA Comments on Planning Act Changes

As CELA’s Bill 197 litigation proceeds, we recently filed detailed comments in response to the provincial government’s “consultation” on the Bill 197 changes to the Planning Act. This after-the-fact consultation is unacceptable to CELA since these statutory changes (which enhance the power of the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to unilaterally issue zoning orders that override municipal zoning by-laws) were already enacted and proclaimed in force over six months ago.

Update: Constitutional Reference on Federal EA Law

CELA is undertaking final preparations for its intervention in an important national test case in which the constitutional validity of Canada’s Impact Assessment Act will be considered by the Alberta Court of Appeal in February. CELA’s position is that the Act is valid legislation that applies to major projects in Ontario (and other provinces) that may have adverse effects upon areas of federal interest.

Nipigon Bay on Lake Superior in winter. Photo Credit: Petri Bailey

Update: Bill 197 Litigation

On  behalf of several clients, CELA lawyers commenced a judicial review application in relation to omnibus Ontario Bill 197, which made sweeping changes to the Planning Act and Environmental Assessment Act without public notice or comment opportunities under the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR). This application is scheduled to be heard by the Divisional Court in mid-May in conjunction with two other applications brought by environmental groups and First Nations representatives. In the meantime, CELA is continuing to gear up for this important test case, and we recently served reply evidence upon all parties.

CELA Responds to Proposed Statement of Environmental Values

Ontario’s Environment Ministry is currently soliciting public comments on its proposed Statement of Environmental Values (SEV) under the EBR.  The public comment period ends on February 20th, and CELA has prepared a blog and a detailed critique that identifies several problems within the proposed SEV, which is intended to to facilitate governmental accountability in environmental decision-making.

Mining Injustice in the Far North – ENGO’s and First Nations Request Moratorium on Mining Exploration in Ring of Fire

In a recent blog post, CELA’s Northern Counsel Kerrie Blaise and emerging settler-scholar identifying with mixed English/Mi’kmaw heritage, PhD candidate Brady Reid, critique Ontario’s continuation of issuing exploration permits in the Ring of Fire.  They urge the government of Ontario to re-evaluate its priorities as the global health crisis persists to provide support, capacity funding, flexibility and decision-making authority to First Nations for the proposed mining development.

In a related but separate action, CELA, supported by others including Friends of the Attawapiskat River, MiningWatch and Wildlands League are calling for Canada to establish an immediate moratorium in the Ring of Fire that includes halting mineral exploration, resource development, and project-specific decision-making. The group’s state decision-making should only move forward when the Crown’s obligations towards First Nations can be met and plans are in place to protect the carbon-rich muskeg of the James Bay Lowlands. This request was made in support  of a recent call for a moratorium on activities in the Ring of Fire by some Mushkegowuk Chiefs and Neskantaga First Nation of Treaty 9.

CELA with Friends of the Attawapiskat River en route to Attawapiskat on the Wetum Road, Winter 2020.  Photo Credit: Kerrie Blaise

Groups Object to Nuclear Regulator’s Plan to Weaken Rules for Experimental Nuclear Reactors

Civil society groups are objecting to plans by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to weaken its nuclear security regulations. A recent staff presentation to the Commission reveals that they have been reviewing the regulations since 2018, with no public consultation.  CELA and partners issued a media release objecting to the plan to weaken rules and loosen regulations.

Book Review – A Good War by Seth Klein

CELA Counsel Rick Lindgren reviews Seth Klein’s recent book and the lessons learned from another existential crisis (WW II) that can be drawn upon to help implement necessary measures for Canada to respond to the climate emergency.

CELA and Northwatch Comments on Ontario’s Hydrogen Strategy

Ontario’s role as a leader in this new green energy industry cannot be achieved if we rely upon non-renewable energy derived hydrogen, such as that from nuclear power.  CELA recently responded to the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks consultation on their discussion paper on Ontario’s Low-Carbon Hydrogen Strategy.

New Environmental Accountability Project in Ontario

The independent Law Commission of Ontario has recently announced a new project that will examine how to strengthen environmental rights and accountability in the province. CELA looks forward to participating in this important initiative.

Webinars & Learning Opportunities

Indigenous Ways of Knowing – Webinar Series

CELA is honoured to be hosting another webinar series with Gary Pritchard.  For 3 weeks starting on January 21, Gary is talking to us about Indigenous place making and ethical space, conservation strategies and decolonizing ecology.  The first two sessions were excellent, and the recordings are available here.  To register for the last session, taking place on Thursday, February 4 at 1pm ET, register here.

Troubled Waters Forum

Register to hear research presentations from internationally recognized water experts on threats to human and aquatic life.  A 5-part series hosted by the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance, Vale Living with Lakes Centre, and the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Association. Register online here, or learn more on their website at www.gswa.ca.

Are Canada’s Environmental Laws up to the Challenge?

CELA recently hosted a webinar in partnership with Nature Canada, talking about how protect communities from the threats of biotechnology.  The recording is available on our website.

Ending the Global Security Threats of Nuclear Power – Lessons from the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons 

CELA Counsel, Northern Services Kerrie Blaise spoke at a webinar earlier this week.  The session took place  five days after the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) came into force. Featuring Ray Achison, Zia Mian, David Lowry, Gordon Edwards, the event was hosted by the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, Beyond Nuclear and the NB Media Co-op.  The recording is available here.