Ontario restores fundamental environmental rights law

The Canadian Environmental Law Association welcomes the government of Ontario’s decision to restore the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1994 (EBR). By way of regulation effective June 15, 2020, Ontario revoked the regulation which had suspended key provisions of the EBR since early April.

The announcement provides a response to the letter from CELA and nearly 50 civil society organizations which raised concerns about the harmful suspension regulation and asked for its immediate repeal. Signatories noted that while emergency measures aimed at protecting the health and well-being of Ontarians during the COVID pandemic are necessary and welcomed, the suspension of the EBR was perilous because it eliminated public knowledge and accompanying rights to weigh in on environmentally significant decisions using the Environmental Registry.

These shared concerns were further profiled in a Request for Review filed by Ecojustice, on behalf of the former Environmental Commissioner Gordon Miller and Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. Again, the applicants urged the province to reinstate the EBR, noting that the removal of the legal obligation for ministries to consider their statements of environmental values undermined government accountability for decisions that might significantly affect the environment.

While the province has released a list of informational bulletins indicating the COVID-19 related matters exempt from the EBR because of the suspension regulation, further action is still needed. To respect the public’s right to know and participate, the province should retroactively disclose all proposals for laws, policies, regulations and instruments which would have been posted for comment, if not for the suspension regulation, and restart the comment period on items which are not urgent COVID-19 actions.

We commend the province’s decision to reinstate Ontarians’ environmental rights and thank everyone who voiced support for EBR and a right to a healthful environment.

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For more information:
Kerrie Blaise, Northern Services Counsel, CEPA
Tel: 416-960-2284 ext 7224, kerrie@cela.ca