Blog: Significant Reform of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act Critical to Protecting our Most Vulnerable Communities

Photo credit – Bald eagle spotted in south Etobicoke, January 2021 – Pat Rice.

Blog posted by CELA Senior Researcher, Fe de Leon

As we begin 2021, the coming year offers many opportunities to advance environmental health and environmental justice. Coincident with US President Biden’s Executive Orders calling for sweeping reforms to advance environmental justice and fight climate change, we can look to key commitments from our federal government’s September 2020 Throne Speech. These commitments, reinforced by funding signals in the Fall Economic Statement, prioritize policies to address the climate crisis as central to a green recovery from the pandemic. Likewise, the Throne Speech signals key legislative reform including climate legislation (already introduced) and reform of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).

We are ready! CEPA is Canada’s principle environmental law intended to address pollution prevention, control of toxic substances and products of biotechnology, air and water pollution, hazardous wastes, environmental emergencies, and more. CELA has a long history of analysis and critique of CEPA noting the need for greater precaution in regulating toxic substances and, in particular, this law’s shortcomings in addressing the most vulnerable Canadians – children, people living on low income, workers, Indigenous communities – who are disproportionately exposed to environmental contaminants. We seek fundamental and generational changes to CEPA and are ready with detailed proposals for reforming CEPA.

CELA will advocate for substantive changes to ensure CEPA is robust enough to truly protect our most vulnerable communities. Achieving real change will require an engaged public willing to push the federal government to make substantive amendments, not just minor changes. To that end, CELA hosted a 4-part informational webinar highlighting key issues for CEPA Reform, including: establishing environmental rights, requiring prevention strategies for toxic substances by applying informed substitution for safe alternatives, addressing endocrine disrupting substances and applying rigorous scientific reviews for substances under CEPA, and how to protect communities from the threats of biotechnology.

CELA also anticipates that the coming year holds a unique opportunity for the federal government to address the ever-growing problems associated with plastic pollution. By amending Schedule 1 (Toxic Substances List) of CEPA to include “plastic manufactured items”, we have the opportunity to address the dismal rate of plastic recycling in Canada. Listing to Schedule 1 of CEPA is an important step towards developing regulations for prohibiting certain plastic products in Canada and other measures to promote extended producer responsibility. CELA’s advocacy is based on the principles of prevention, a full life cycle approach, and investment in better product design and producer responsibility. At the same time, CELA will continue to seek stronger provisions for prior informed consent on the transboundary movement of plastic waste and other hazardous materials, including the movement of plastic waste between Canada and the United States.

Advocating at the federal level for substantial changes to CEPA is a key priority for CELA, to ensure protection of vulnerable communities from environmental pollution.