CELA’s Legal Services, Law Reform Priorities and Public Legal Education Activities
CELA has been helping people face pollution and other environmental problems for nearly 50 years. We work on behalf of both individuals and non-profit citizen or community groups. If you are looking for help with an environmental problem, please read the information below carefully. As an Ontario Legal Aid Clinic, some important conditions affect which clients we can accept for full legal representation.
Legal Aid Representation
As a specialty clinic within Legal Aid Ontario, CELA helps those who otherwise lack the resources to mount a legal challenge to pollution or environmental harm. All legal aid-qualified cases must involve clients and issues in Ontario, whether the case is heard in a provincial or federal court or tribunal. We also look for cases that will decide important legal issues and that are therefore in the broad public interest. Our clients must also meet all other Legal Aid Ontario qualifications, including for income, to be considered. We represent individuals, families or groups. We do not take on libel or slander cases. To discuss possible legal representation at CELA, please call 416-960-2284, ext. 7227 or email articling @ cela.ca.
General Advice and Referrals
For general advice about your situation, we encourage you to consult this website before contacting us. See the FAQ section in particular for answers to some common questions. If you still have questions or concerns, please call 416-960-2284, ext. 7216 or email tracy @ cela.ca for non-legal inquiries and articling @ cela.ca for legal inquiries. If you are unsure if your inquiry is legal or non-legal, start with the articling inquiry. We cannot respond to every inquiry in depth but where necessary, can often steer you toward appropriate resources.
We frequently refer potential cases to lawyers in private firms who specialize in environmental or municipal law. See our lawyer referral list. If you are a lawyer and would like your name added to this list, please send an email to admin @ cela.ca.
CELA in the Courts
CELA’s Casework – Some Highlights
CELA has a long history of taking on groundbreaking legal cases to help protect individuals and communities and to strengthen environmental laws and policies. For example, CELA defended Canada’s first municipal bylaw outlawing the use of cosmetic pesticides on private property (the Hudson, Quebec pesticide bylaw). The result was a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that municipalities had the right to regulate pesticide use, which paved the way for more municipal and then provincial action to reduce the risk of these needless pesticide uses across Canada. We have changed the rules around industrial water withdrawals from underground aquifers. We have ensured that higher life forms cannot be patented through a Supreme Court decision that remains an important precedent regarding biotechnology and intellectual property. We have ensured that he provincial Environment Ministry has to follow its Statement of Environmental Values. In numerous cases, decisions in favour of CELA’s clients have upheld citizen rights to participate in decision making under both Ontario and federal environmental protection laws.
As an Ontario legal aid clinic, our court appearances are on behalf of low income individuals and community organizations. Often, the most economically vulnerable bear the largest brunt of pollution. Low income families, especially children, are also more exposed and more vulnerable to environmental pollution and toxic chemicals in consumer products. We have spent more than 40 years seeking justice and fairer treatment for these individuals and communities.
CELA also represents citizens and groups in other legal settings, including tribunals, boards and commissions. For example, we assisted the Concerned Citizens of Walkerton throughout all phases of the Walkerton Inquiry into tainted drinking water in a small Ontario town.
DISCLAIMER: The legal documents posted to this website are a matter of public record. Please be advised that all statements of fact or law in these documents are allegations that must be proven before the court or tribunal in question. These documents are posted on this website for public information purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice or opinion. If you require legal assistance, please contact CELA or other legal counsel.
CELA’s Law Reform Priorities and Public Legal Education Activities
Equally important to our legal representation work, we work hard to stay out of the courtroom by changing policies and practices to make it unnecessary for citizens or communities to have to hire a lawyer to seek environmental justice. In fact, our policy work in shaping progressive environmental laws and regulations is often shaped by the issues we see arising in the many inquires to our office or in the courts.
Access to Environmental Justice
CELA gives a voice to those who have the least power to be heard when it comes to decision making. Whether it is documenting the impact of environmental de-regulation on communities or calling for an end to frivolous lawsuits designed to silence opposition to polluters or poorly planned development, CELA works to make citizen voices heard in government and the courts. Our mandate includes advocating for greater public participation and access to decision making, particularly when it comes to decisions that will affect the environment and people’s health.
As Canadians we tend to take water for granted. But threats to water quantity and quality are all around us, from poorly planned development, water diversions and uncontrolled consumption, to direct pollution. CELA has a long history of working to improve water source protection and to stop water pollution. In particular, CELA played an important role in the Walkerton Inquiry and helped to shape Ontario’s Safe Drinking Water Act that resulted from the inquiry’s recommendations. We continue to take action on issues ranging from protecting the Great Lakes to increasing water conservation efforts.
Pollution and Health
CELA works closely with Canada’s leading doctors and public health experts as well as other environmental and community organizations on environmental health issues. We raise concerns about the hazards of air pollution as well as now-restricted but still present chemicals that continue to create harmful exposures, such as lead, brominated flame retardants or banned pesticides. In pointing to these and other health risks, we call for tougher restrictions on pollution and toxic substances that are still in use, including in consumer products, and also seek greater care in the approach to approving the use of new chemicals. Children’s health is a particular concern because much more severe and lifelong effects of toxic substances can occur in the womb or during childhood. We also know that children living in poverty are at even greater risk, CELA is urging governments to take a stronger stand against exposing children to pollutants and toxic substances in consumer products.
If we want to reduce the disastrous impacts of our dependence on fossil fuels, including their enormous contribution to climate change and air and water pollution, then we need to accelerate the shift to clean, green energy. And if we want to avoid leaving future generations with a terrible legacy of toxic radioactive waste and stop the further spread of dangerous nuclear by-products, then we need to eliminate the use of high-cost nuclear power. CELA collaborates with many other organizations to both demonstrate that green energy can meet our needs in a cost effective and environmentally safe way and to ensure equal access to clean energy for all.
As a founding member of the Low Income Energy Network, we are helping to fight energy poverty and to ensure low income households can benefit from a green and more efficient energy system. As a member of the Renewable is Doable group, we are also demonstrating why green power and efficiency is the best recipe for meeting Ontario’s electricity needs.
Planning and Sustainability
If we want to protect the natural areas that filter our water, clean our air and support wild creatures, farmlands that produce our foods, and waterways that provide our drinking water, then we need strong planning systems, including objective environmental assessments, to steer our decision making. CELA has a long history of working to strengthen all aspects of the planning system, from directing smart urban growth to protecting source water areas. We want to see planning systems that will help us to build strong and resilient communities while protecting the natural areas and systems that provide the critical natural services, like air filtration and water protection, that we all rely on every day.
CELA advocates for the integrity and strength of domestic environmental law in light of regional, bilateral and multilateral agreements. We monitor and respond to international agreements that may adversely affect the ability of all levels of government in Canada to enact and enforce environmental laws.
During the negotiation of development of such agreements, CELA focuses on whether they may adversely affect the public, particularly Ontario low income communities. We work to ensure public access to and participation in the development of international agreements which impact environmental law and protection, as well as the timely and effective domestic implementation of international agreements intended to protect the environment such as the Stockholm Treaty on Persistent Organic Pollutants.