May 2020 Bulletin

Walkerton’s Drinking Water Protection Legacy

Concerned Walkerton Citizens spokesperson Bruce Davidson at the memorial plaque at Well 5 in Walkerton on the 20th anniversary of the Walkerton tragedy. Photo Credit: Veronica Davidson

In May of 2000, the water supply in the town of Walkerton, Ontario was contaminated with E. coli. As a result, seven people lost their lives, thousands became ill and many live with lasting complications to this day.

The tragedy was a wake up call for Canadian citizens and leaders. The municipal tap water that everyone assumed was safe without a second thought had become contaminated and Ontarians could no longer take drinking water for granted.

What followed the tragedy in Walkerton was a provincial inquiry in two parts: the first focusing on the cause of the contamination in Walkerton, and the second focusing on the state of drinking water protection in Ontario.

CELA was involved in the process from start to finish, working with the community, government and experts to not only determine how Walkerton’s water was contaminated, but to develop a system to ensure that no other community would have to experience the same thing.

The inquiry and the report it generated resulted in an overhaul of Ontario’s drinking water regulations and was the foundation for the province’s Safe Drinking Water Act.

Now 20 years later, the CELA team and their partners are revisiting their time working on the Walkerton case in an effort to document an important piece of Canadian environmental history. A new CELA video interview series examines the continuing legacy of the Walkerton Inquiry and serves as a reminder of the need for constant vigilance in the protection of the environment and human health.

Read the full blog post about the Walkerton Drinking Water Protection Legacy, by communictions intern Julie Mutis.

Watch the interviews to hear from those involved in the inquiry – Bruce Davidson, Jim Smith, Jim Merritt, Paul Muldoon, and CELA lawyers and researchers Theresa McClenaghan, Richard Lindgren, Ramani Nadarajah, Fe de Leon, and Joseph Castrilli.

The Walkerton inquiry and the report it generated resulted in an overhaul of Ontario’s drinking water regulations and was the foundation for the province’s Safe Drinking Water Act. Check out these detailed casework pages to learn more about Ontario’s Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act.

COVID-19 Related Updates

Legal Clinics Continue Important Work in Trying Times

As legal aid clinics, we advocate for inclusion, not exclusion, and for justice, not charity. We live in a very unequal society, increasingly recognized and brought into sharp relief by the pandemic. We are raising our voices to ensure that senior governments know about the impacts of their decisions on our clients. Eternal vigilance is our work. Seeing impacts of our current societal arrangements on our clients gives rise to the systemic work that we do, to make those arrangements more just and equitable.

Read the rest of our guest blog post by Marion Overholt, Executive Director of Legal Assistance of Windsor.

Letters to the PM

Hold Strong on Environmental Laws during Pandemic: CELA and 15 other organizations have written a letter to the Prime Minister urging the government to resist pressure to weaken or delay the implementation of federal environmental laws during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Natural Infrastructure is an Integral Part of a Green Recovery: 42 groups came together to encourage Prime Minister Trudeau and key federal ministers to invest in natural infrastructure as a part of Canada’s COVID-19 recovery plan. In an open letter, the groups provide detailed recommendations for investment in natural infrastructure as an integral part of Canada’s economic recovery from the COVID crisis and its long-term resilience against the impending climate emergency.

Need for Suspension of Timelines under Impact Assessment Act

CELA Counsel Richard Lindgren and nine other organizations wrote to the Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change to ask that time limits for impact assessments under the Impact Assessment Act be suspended due to limitations and restrictions in place during the COVID-19 pandemic that constrain public engagement, data gathering, and analysis.

Photo Credit: Rick Lindgren

A Post-Pandemic Planet

A large ozone hole has closed, lagoons are crystal clear in Venice and the Himalayas are visible for the first time in decades. So should we be celebrating? CELA’s Special Counsel for CELA’s Healthy Great Lakes program, Anastasia Lintner, spoke with Candace Sampson on her podcast “What She Said!” about the pandemic and our planet.

Anastasia also recently co-presented in a webinar with Environmental Defence as part of their Recovery Series, talking about threats and opportunities for the Great Lakes post-pandemic.

Student Updates

CELA is excited to welcome a host of talented and dedicated students for the spring and summer of 2020. They bring a range of experience, from first year law students, to articling students, to recent graduates.

Michelle LaFortune is featured in this month’s “Faces of CELA” post, and Taraneh Ashrafi penned a blog post about her experiences of COVID-19 through the eyes of a legal intern.

CELA is pleased to announce that our student-at-law Amanda Montgomery and former CELA law student Christina Persad have completed their articles of clerkship and are being called to the Ontario bar. Congratulations and best wishes to Amanda and Christina, and we hope that both of you enjoy long, successful and rewarding legal careers!

From Left to Right: Ryan Chawner, Diane Hwang, Michelle LaFortune, Amanda Montgomery (CELA’s student-at-law) , Yvonne Mazurak, Petri Bailey, Julie Mutis, Kerrie Blaise (CELA’s Northern Services Counsel), Anastasia Lintner (CELA’s Special Projects Counsel, Healthy Great Lakes). Not Pictured: Christina Persad, Jenna Sheikh, Taraneh Ashrafi.


Proposed Reforms Favour Ontario Pit and Quarry Operators

CELA filed a letter with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to express concern about proposed changes to Ontario Regulation 244/97 and Provincial Standards under the Aggregate Resources Act (ERO# 019-1303). The CELA letter concludes that the industry-friendly reforms are inadequate for the purposes of protecting the environment and public health and safety, and will likely expedite the proliferation of new or expanded pits and quarries across the province.

Canada Needs a National Radioactive Waste Policy

CELA and the members of Nuclear Waste Watch penned a letter and media release, and over 100 groups signed on, urging suspension of decisions involving radioactive waste after the International Atomic Energy Agency found Canada’s nuclear waste policy deficient.

The international review stated that Canada needs an updated radioactive waste policy, which the Canadian government has agreed to develop. This is needed before any further decisions are made on proposed radioactive waste projects.

EPA Proposal Would Allow Officials to Choose what Science to Consider

The Toxics Free Great Lakes Network, of which CELA is co-host, joined 26 other public interest groups from the Great Lakes region and the U.S midwest, and wrote a letter expressing their concern about a proposal that would allow officials to choose what science to consider in policy considerations.

Photo Credit: Rick Lindgren

Conservation Authorities Play a Critical Role in Ontario

CELA joined over 100 other organizations from a number of sectors to call on the Government of Ontario to retain the current mandate of the province’s 36 Conservation Authorities in protecting, restoring and managing the watersheds where 95 percent of Ontarians reside.

Canada Withdraws Exemption for Recycling Articles with Flame Retardants

CELA and HEJSupport congratulate Canada on the decision to withdraw its exemption on recycling articles that include four fire retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). These highly toxic chemicals are associated with several cancers, endocrine disruption, and are known to disrupt nervous system development adversely affecting brain development, intelligence and behaviour.

CELA In The Courts

CELA Quarry Case Comes to a Close

For several years, CELA has represented a residents’ group in relation to a proposed quarry beside the Magnetawan River near Emsdale, Ontario. Concerned about potential water impacts and public safety risks, CELA’s client intervened as a party in proceedings before the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal under the Planning Act and Aggregate Resources Act. However, the proponent has decided to discontinue this project, and the Tribunal recently closed its hearing file.

CELA’s Longest Landfill Case: 21 Years and Counting

Since 1999, CELA has represented a citizens’ group in Tyendinaga Township that has been battling on two main fronts: (a) addressing groundwater impacts from a closed mega-landfill in southeastern Ontario; and (b) stopping the proponent’s proposal to construct a new mega-landfill on adjacent lands.

Working closely with the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte (whose territory is downstream of the landfill property), CELA’s client has used judicial and administrative proceedings to seek environmental justice, safeguard water resources, and protect public health. Unfortunately, it appears that this case will continue to drag on since the proponent has not withdrawn its proposal for the new landfill, and has recently applied for approval to modify the leachate storage system and related infrastructure at the closed landfill.

Photo Credit: Rick Lindgren

Friends of Simcoe Forest Update

Friends of Simcoe Forests Inc. (FSF) has sent a letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing voicing concern about the County of Simcoe’s recent request for a zoning order for a proposed waste facility. The waste facility is proposed to be located within the Freele County Forest, which is subject to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. FSF has appealed the proposal to establish the waste facility to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. If issued, the zoning will terminate the hearing before the tribunal and prevent FSF from making its case. Numerous residents and environmental groups have also written to the Minister expressing serious concern with the County’s request. Ontario Nature sent out an Action Alert regarding the recent increase in the use of zoning orders by the province.

A Host of Great Virtual Opportunities!

Thursday, June 4 at 2pm
Our recent “Working with Indigenous Communities” series featured three informative and insightful conversations with Cambium Aboriginal’s Gary Pritchard. Recordings from these sessions are available on our website. Gary is offering a fourth session on Thursday, June 4 at 2pm, talking about Indigenous and municipal relationships. Registration is required.

Tuesday, June 16 at 2:00pm
All pesticide use carries risk but important differences exist in how pesticides behave indoors and in how they are regulated. Choices exist for lower risk alternatives alongside prevention. CELA’s Senior Researcher, Kathleen Cooper, and Dr. Meg Sears President of Prevent Cancer Now, will explain in this webinar, hosted by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE). Register here.

Over 200 people enjoyed presentations from passionate and knowledgeable Great Lakes advocates, talking about their advocacy work in the 80’s and 90’s, and lessons learned for today’s work on legacy chemicals such as PFAs. The recording is available here.

Tuesday, June 16 at 7:00pm
CELA and the CELA Foundation are launching an “environmental themes of our times” bookclub. Join our virtual gatherings for a chance to delve into classic and contemporary works of fiction that cast a new light on topics we grapple with daily. The first selection is Henrik Ibsen’s classic play, An Enemy of the People. This play has new relevance today in the context of the pandemic, and is a classic on the theme of speaking out on unpopular or inconvenient truths.

CELA has been invited and will be participating in the June 5 United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification – Capacity Development and Innovations Office first virtual panel discussion on the topic of “Is poverty necessary in the world to mitigate climate change?” We will live-tweet from the event which you can follow on #UNCCDPanel2020 as of 8 am EST.

Anastasia Lintner, Special Counsel for CELA’s Healthy Great Lakes program, spoke to the Great Lakes Network about how a policy becomes a federal law in Canada. The slideshow for her presentation is available here. (Our apologies to those who missed the original session; we made an error in some of the outreach material.)

July 7, 2020, 9:00-11:30 a.m.
Northern Services Counsel Kerrie Blaise will be speaking at a Professional Geoscientists Ontario virtual symposium in July, looking at what sustainability means in the context of project planning and public consultation. Her presentation will review key principles of international environmental law and review their applicability within a Canadian context. Drawing on our history of working with citizens’ groups and advocating for greater public participation in decision-making, CELA will also share legal tools and policies which can advance a project’s social acceptance, or ‘social license’ to operate.

Photo Credit: Rick Lindgren