September 2021 Bulletin

What does Truth and Reconciliation Mean to You?

You may have noticed you’re receiving our monthly newsletter a couple of days early.  While we usually send it out on the last day of the month, we chose to send it out on the 28th to create more space for Indigenous voices on September 30th, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation asks that we take time this week to reflect on “What does Truth and Reconciliation Mean to You?”  To that end, a number of our staff have shared their reflections with us in blog posts.

Anastasia Lintner shares her personal commitments to Reconciliation, Kathleen Cooper recalls a troubling memory from her childhood, and April Weppler talks about the first steps in her personal journey towards Truth and Reconciliation.

Indian Act Reserve Systems Removes Us From Our Homelands, to Exploit Our Precious Resources

Charles Hookimaw was born and raised in Attawapiskat First Nation, Canada. In this guest blog, he shares his first-hand account of what is going on with proposed resource developments, like the Ring of Fire, and the corporate players who benefit through acquiring claim stakes, assets, and company takeovers within Attawapiskat’s Traditional Territory. As Charles urges,  there must be full inclusion for First Nations before any development is agreed to if there is to be any so-called “reconciliation”. 

Truth & Reconciliation – Reflections by CELA’s Executive Director, Theresa McClenaghan

As we mark September 30, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we at CELA are thinking about how the part of the justice sector we work in, environmental law, works or does not work for Indigenous communities. 

What we know is that there is such an incredible amount of work still to do.  Some Indigenous clients who we represent are still wrestling with a legacy of toxic contamination that occurred when governments gave no thought to the impact on their communities from licensing polluting activities.  Others are still fighting for clean drinking water. 

Many of our colleagues are working to improve the system, and inviting us to help, such as working toward a better drinking water legal system for First Nations.  All too often, our Indigenous partners are battling to avoid having the formal rules of environmental approvals and consultation amount to more than mere “check-boxes.”  However there is incredible work going on right across Canada, on improving the involvement of indigenous communities in decision making for their communities, and in moving toward a time when indigenous legal traditions will be recognized properly in the broader Canadian legal context, including being cited as legal authority. 

CELA will be continuing our work, our legal advocacy, our representation, and our law reform efforts, in conjunction with our Indigenous friends, partners, colleagues, and clients, toward the day when that happens.

Photo Credit – Andy Everson.

Indigenous Resources & Representation

As a legal aid clinic and service provider, CELA is always available to work with Indigenous clients and First Nations communities on environmental protection matters, particularly where individuals or communities don’t have access to other resources. Following are a selection of resources, cases, and law reform campaigns that relate to Indigenous issues and rights:

Source Water Protection in Indigenous Communities 
With funding from the Law Foundation of Ontario, CELA with the tri-nations of Munsee-Delaware, Chippewas of the Thames and Oneida Nations developed a legal toolkit to address concerns from community members, whose historical use and enjoyment of the Thames River had been diminished, because of threats from industrial discharges and spills, sewage overflows, and the impact of phosphorus loading and pesticide use.  This work built on previous efforts with Pays Plat First Nation and Grassy Narrows First Nation to address threats to source waters. CELA has since expanded its work in Southwestern Ontario, working with partners at the Southern First Nations Secretariat and youth in the Antler River Guardians.

Opposing the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act
Along with our First Nations colleagues, CELA opposed the proposed Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act.  While the Act was welcomed in its intent to improve the health and safety of First Nations, it had the potential to undermine Aboriginal and treaty rights without significantly improving access to safe drinking water. More information is available here and here.

CELA presented to Chiefs of Ontario and to the Assembly of First Nations. about the importance of source water protection in Indigenous Communities.

Antler River Guardians from the 4 Directions
The Antler River Guardians From The 4 Directions (ARGFT4D) is an environmental youth engagement program established by Walpole Island First Nation (Bkejwanong Territory), Chippewa of the Thames First Nation, Aamjiwnaang First Nation, Caldwell First Nation, Thames River Clear Water Revival Steering Committee, MOECC, MNRF, UTRCA, LTVCA, Tides Dragonfly Fund, and CELA.

Northern Services
Through representation, CELA has supported the Friends of the Attawapiskat River in their actions to amplify the voice of Indigenous community members living downstream of the proposed Ring of Fire mineral development.

We were retained by Kebaowek First Nation in relation to an upcoming federal impact assessment of a proposed 780 km natural gas pipeline that stretches from northeastern Ontario to southern Quebec. 

Grassy Narrows First Nation
With the support of the test case committee at Legal Aid Ontario for expert witnesses and translation, CELA represents Grassy Narrows First Nation in applying for judicial review of a forest management plan that authorized clear-cutting in their watershed. The application raised various Charter arguments, and also challenged the refusal of the Ontario government to order an environmental assessment of this harvesting activity despite clear evidence that it would release additional mercury into the watershed, on top of the historic mercury contamination from an upstream pulp and paper mill. In light of this litigation, the clear-cutting operations have not proceeded to date.

Photo Credit – Petri Bailey

New Database

CELA has recently adopted a new contact management database.  We’re excited about opportunities to better engage with you, but no new system is without its glitches.  If you have any concerns about having received this newsletter (perhaps we used the wrong email address?), please don’t hesitate to drop us a line at We appreciate your patience!

Case Updates

Court Declares Ontario Government Broke the Law

Earlier this month, the Ontario Divisional Court determined that the Government Of Ontario broke the law when it failed to comply with the public consultation requirements of Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR).  Specifically, in a decision released on September 3, 2021, it declared that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing acted “unreasonably and unlawfully” in failing to consult with the public on changes to the Planning Act regarding Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs).

“The Environmental Bill of Rights provides very significant tools for the people of Ontario to know about, and participate in, decisions that affect their environment. Complying with the Ontario EBR is not ‘optional,’” said Theresa McClenaghan, Executive Director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA). “In this decision, the Divisional Court has reaffirmed the requirement for the Ontario government to ensure those rights are provided to the public.”

Read the full media release here.

Law Reform Updates

Submission on Proposed Regulation Requiring Conservation Authority to Authorize Development

CELA submitted comments on the province’s proposed regulation to enable development under a Ministerial Zoning Order.  The regulation would set a timeframe for permission to be issued and for an ecological compensation agreement to be signed under s.28.0.1 of the Conservation Authorities Act for development on lands described in Ontario Regulation 568/21.

CELA recommends that consultation immediately cease and that no decision be made, until such time as additional detail (including a draft regulation) and an adequate comment period are provided to allow the public to meaningfully participate in the decision‐making, pursuant to the intent of Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993.

The full submission is available on our website here.

Anticipating the Fate of Key Environmental Legislation

With the most recent federal election now completed, there is growing anticipation of the fate of key federal environmental bills including Bill C-28, an Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), and Bill C-230, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy to redress environmental racism.  Both of these pieces of legislation died on the order paper with the dissolution of Parliament.

CELA will watch for the government’s commitment to these bills and continue to call for their strengthening, particularly changes to CEPA,  which will protect the most vulnerable populations and the environment. 

Photo Credit – Fe de Leon

Webinars & Resources

Effects of Toxic Substances on Great Lakes Fish Health, and What it Means for the Health and Wellbeing of People and Communities

Thursday, October 14, 2021
12:00pm – 1:15pm ET // 11:00am – 12:15pm CT

The Toxics-Free Great Lakes Binational Network, Blue Fish Canada, and the Great Lakes Fish Health Network invite you to a binational webinar on the impacts of toxic substances on the health of fish. Learn about past and emerging toxic substances in the Great Lakes basin, how fish health is being impacted, and what this means for human health, Indigenous cultures, and the social and economic sustainability of shoreline communities.

Full event information, and a link to register, are available here.

Get the Lead Out of Drinking Water – A Hamilton Case Study

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021 
12:00-1:00pm ET // 11:00am-12:00pm CT

The presence of lead in our drinking water is a crucial public health issue – this webinar will provide a brief overview of the health impacts of lead and identify recommendations for a permanent policy solution that protects everyone. Focusing on the community of Hamilton but open to everyone, we want to hear from you – how is lead impacting the place you live, learn, work and play? Together, we’ll talk about how we can advocate for change and ensure we can all enjoy safe drinking water.

Registration is required

Water Conversations – Episode Three: What Does it Mean for Water?  A Post-Election Analysis

Thursday, October 21st, 2021
1:00 – 2:00 pm ET // 12:00 – 1:00 pm CT

As the dust settles after the recently held federal election, we’d like to talk with you about what the result means for water.  Do you have questions about the impacts and opportunities for water policy and protection?  Who are the knowledge holders you’d like to hear from? Share your ideas with us in this short form as we prepare to host this important conversation.

More information and registration will be posted on our website closer to the date of the Conversation.

Justice & Health Community Forum: An Environmental Law Lens on the Social Determinants of Health

Thursday, October 28th, 2021
12:00 – 2:00 pm ET // 11:00am – 12:00pm CT

The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) is pleased to be co-hosting a Community Forum with the Community Advocacy & Legal Centre (CALC) discussing environmental health and justice perspectives on the social determinants of health.  The session will talk about CELA’s work on access to justice, pollution prevention, and public health and safety, with a particular focus on how we address climate change impacts on vulnerable communities, our work to protect drinking water, indoor environmental health issues, and exposures to toxic substances.

  Registration is required.

Sustainability Network – Legal Toolkit

Hosted by Anastasia Lintner of CELA and including numerous lawyers from CELA, Ecojustice, and The Commission for Environmental Cooperation, the Toolkit is designed to educate nonprofits active in the environmental field about the legal tools available to protect our air, water, land, and human health

Participants will receive a nuts and bolts overview of the laws that protect our environment, have access to 11 Legal Toolkit recordings, and receive a link to join the Zoom Meeting Sessions on November 17th and 18th.  Complete event information and registration is available here.