March 2023 Bulletin

Celebrating Water

World Water Day, celebrated on March 22, is about accelerating change to solve the water and sanitation crisis. Our most basic interactions with water occur at home, through our tap – be it drinking, cooking, or bathing. And it is critical that we be able to depend on clean, safe water in our homes, schools and workplaces before we can begin to be concerned about larger, global water issues.

It is for this reason that CELA continues to call on the provincial government to protect drinking water for everyone in Ontario by getting the lead out of drinking water once and for all, and improving the Clean Water Act and Regulation 903 so that every single person in Ontario has critical, multi-barrier protection for their drinking water.

On the theme of home, many of us in Ontario make our homes in the watershed of the Great Lakes. CELA welcomed the federal government’s announcement of $420M in additional Great Lakes funding over the next 10 years. Investing in cleaning up the lakes from past contaminants and reducing pollution will help to ensure safe drinking water for all, safe fisheries, and healthy ecosystems.

Most recently, CELA was pleased to see investment in water as a key tenet of the 2023 federal budget. The budget includes important forward movement on establishing the Canada Water Agency, including its central location in Winnipeg, as well as commitments to strengthen the Freshwater Action Plan and introduce legislation establishing the Agency as a standalone entity. CELA supports the federal investment in advancing science and knowledge on freshwater, and the distribution of those funds to a range of high-priority watersheds across the country, including the Great Lakes.

Case Updates

Supreme Court Reserves Decision on the Impact Assessment Act

The Supreme Court of Canada recently held an important appeal hearing on whether Parliament has constitutional authority to enact its current environmental assessment regime (i.e., Impact Assessment Act and designated projects regulations).

At the two-day hearing, CELA and other public interest interveners argued that the legislation is constitutionally valid under various heads of federal power in section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court reserved its decision, which will likely be released later this year.

Law Reform Updates

Freshwater Protection and Renewable Energy Key Focus of 2023 Federal Budget

The 2023 federal budget is an important step in accelerating Canada’s transition to a low-carbon future and the protection of freshwater across the country. CELA is pleased to see significant investments in freshwater, renewable electricity, and healthy communities. 

“Protecting current and future generations within Canada and worldwide requires transformational change,” said Theresa McClenaghan, CELA’s Executive Director. “This budget is a significant downpayment on a sustainable future for our children”.

The budget includes important forward movement on establishing the Canada Water Agency and funding for the Great Lakes, and investment in renewable electricity. However, CELA remains concerned with the diversion of climate resources to nuclear energy; nuclear energy is not the solution to climate change and carries its own risk in terms of environmental contamination, accidents, and nuclear waste.

CELA continues its call for prioritization of environmental justice in all government initiatives and programs and looks forward to continuing to collaborate with the government to prioritize considerations of anti-racism, equity, and inclusion as part of a comprehensive approach to incorporating environmental justice across the federal government.

Read the full media release here.

Equity Issues Central to Latest IPCC Report 

This month the International Panel on Climate Change issued its most stark message yet to policymakers and the global community. A path forward to avoid the worst impacts of climate change remains, but that path is getting narrower. 

The Report was especially striking in its emphasis on issues of equity as we continue the fight against climate change. This strikes a chord with us at CELA as we advocate for solutions to climate issues affecting vulnerable communities. 

Taking heart from the support the report provides to the role of law and the importance of public participation, CELA will double down on our work advancing environmental equity and ensuring decision-makers understand the contexts that produce inequities.

Read more in this blog post.


Photo Credit: Zoé St-Pierre

Site-Specific Air Standard Approval – Lennox Generating Station

As you may recall, in September 2022 CELA hosted a webinar and made a submission to the Ontario government via the Environmental Registry of Ontario regarding Ontario Power Generation Inc.’s (OPG) application for a site-specific air pollution standard for its Lennox Generating Station. 

Earlier this month, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) approved the application. While CELA is disappointed with the approval of the application, the MECP did adopt OPG’s recommended action plan. You can read more about the conditions here.

One of the conditions is to create a community liaison committee, and CELA encourages members of the public in the community to get involved with the committee once it is created. 

CELA hopes the conditions help ensure the highest degree of safeguards for both the surrounding community’s health and the environment. 

New Map Shows Location of PFAS Contamination

This month CELA released a map of Canadian military and airport sites that are known or suspected to be contaminated with per- and polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAS). The data for the map was obtained in response to a petition filed by CELA, Citizens’ Network for Waste Management, Clean Production, Health and Environment Justice Support, and Northwatch in August of 2021. The responses to the petition are here.

This map is part of CELA’s ongoing push for transparency and increased public awareness about PFAS in Canada, including the location of communities most at risk from these chemicals due to ongoing use of PFAS or legacy contamination. For more information about the map and PFAS, read this new blog post.

All of these resources, as well as a toolkit on how to reduce your exposure, can be found on CELA’s PFAS law reform page.

Pathway Out of Energy Poverty in Northern Ontario

The Low-Income Energy Network (LIEN) has published Pathway Out of Energy Poverty in Northern Ontarioa report assessing energy affordability programs available to low-income people in Northern Ontario. The report concludes that there are significant gaps in protection for low-income people struggling to pay their utility bills.

Across Ontario, low-income households are not able to afford rising energy costs. The burden of energy poverty is especially high in Northern Ontario. Although Ontario has created programs and policies to address energy poverty, large gaps still exist and some of the programs are ill-suited to the circumstances and high costs of energy in Northern Ontario. The purpose of this report is to survey the energy poverty programs that are available to low-income people in Northern Ontario, make recommendations to fill policy gaps, and address barriers to program uptake.

Earlier this month, LIEN also issued a media release calling on the Ontario Energy Board to reverse its alarming decision to reduce the Low-income Energy Assistance Program to pre-COVID levels. The decision makes less money available to low-income people struggling to pay their utilities bills.

CELA Counsel Jacqueline Wilson spoke with CBC about the report earlier this month.

Blog: Manito Aki Inaakonigewin // Great Spirit Law

Last month we introduced you to Jane Fallis Cooper, who was on placement with CELA through the Osgoode Hall Law School Intensive Program in Indigenous Lands, Resources and Governments. Her placement centered around conducting legal research for Grand Council Treaty #3 (the governing body of the Anishnaabe Nation in Treaty #3) in relation to both common law and Anishnaabe law.

Jane recently co-wrote a blog with Hailey Krolyk, Policy Analyst with Treaty #3 Investment Group in Grand Council Treaty #3. The blog discusses Manito Aki Inaakonigewin (MAI), which loosely translates to “Great Spirit Law” and is the law of the Anishinaabe Nation in Treaty #3. Although colonialism has subjugated the practice of Anishinaabe ways of life, Manito Aki Inaakonigewin continues to be asserted and is undergoing an exciting revitalization process in Treaty #3.

Photo Credit: Jane Fallis Cooper

Ontario Proposes More Controversial EA Reforms

As part of its “EA modernization” initiative, the Ontario government has recently proposed significant changes in how the Environmental Assessment Act (as amended by Bill 197 in 2020) will be applied to major transportation and electricity projects.

At present, proposals to construct large-scale provincial freeways or high-voltage transmission lines are currently subject to individual EA requirements under Part II of the Act. From 2020 to 2022, when the province solicited public input on its draft projects list regulation under the amended Act, the Ontario government indicated that these types of projects (e.g., multi-lane highways >75 km and transmission lines >345 kV and >75km) would continue to trigger individual EAs (re-named “Comprehensive EAs”).

However, the Ontario government is now proposing to further narrow the scope of the draft projects list regulation. For example, according to the Registry posting (ERO 019-4219), “the revisions to the proposal involve moving all transportation (highways and rail) and electricity transmission projects that had been proposed for a comprehensive EA to a streamlined EA process.”

In CELA’s view, this is an inappropriate, unjustified, and unacceptable rollback of current EA requirements for these environmentally significant projects for several reasons:

  • the Streamlined EA process is not as robust, accountable, or participatory as the Comprehensive EA process;
  • the Streamlined EA process does not result in a project-specific approval with binding and enforceable conditions imposed by the Minister and/or Cabinet;
  • pursuant to the Bill 197 changes, it is no longer possible for Ontarians to file a “bump-up” (or “elevation”) request on environmental grounds to ask the Minister to move a particularly significant project from the Streamlined EA process to the Comprehensive EA process; and
  • Ontarians cannot request the Minister to refer a Streamlined Class EA project to the independent Ontario Land Tribunal for a public hearing and decision.

Members of the public have until May 9, 2023 to submit comments to the Ontario government about this ill-advised proposal. CELA’s forthcoming brief on this matter will be posted on our website.

Photo credit: Fe de Leon

Inside CELA / From the Foundation

Fe de Leon Appointed to Great Lakes Water Quality Board

CELA is very excited to congratulate Fe de Leon on her appointment to the International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes Water Quality Board! Researcher and paralegal with CELA, Fe brings deep expertise and passion to this appointment and will continue to enhance connections through this important international advisory body. 

Farewell to Flavia Zaka

We are grateful to Flavia Zaka for her hard work and contribution to CELA over the last three months. Flavia came on short-term with CELA to help fill in while Ramani Nadarajah was on secondment. Flavia first started working with CELA during law school, and we were thrilled to have her back! 

Feature from the Archives

This month’s feature from the CELA archives is “The Fate of the Great Lakes – Sustaining or Draining the Sweetwater Seas?”. The report from 1997, co-authored by CELA and Great Lakes United, addressed chronic and emerging issues impacting the sustainability of the waters of the Great Lakes.

Photo credit: Petri Bailey

Webinars & Resources

Heat Exposure for Agricultural Workers

As a consequence of the climate crisis, the length, intensity, and frequency of heat waves in Canada are expected to increase. In this new report, CELA provides recommendations to protect outdoor workers and greenhouse workers against extreme heat conditions. It focuses particularly on migrant workers, an especially vulnerable but indispensable part of Ontario’s workforce.

For more resources on how climate change is disproportionally impacting vulnerable communities, visit our law reform page.

Looking for a Publication?

In addition to the search function on our website, all our publications are listed in reverse chronological order on our website here, or you can view a full list here.  Looking for an older publication?  CELA’s archives contain all of CELA’s documents up until 2017.

You might also be interested in perusing the library housed by the CELA Foundation.

The CELA Foundation website is also home to the Environmental History Program, which includes interesting projects such as Environmental Beginnings and all the publications from the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.