Canada to Recognize Right to a Healthy Environment

Father and his kid on a hike looking at a lake in Canada

The Government of Canada announced today that it will modernize the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) and, in so doing, will recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment.

The Government of Canada is proposing to recognize that every individual in Canada has a right to a healthy environment, and will recognize that the Government has a duty to protect that right when administering CEPA.

The Government will develop an implementation framework, setting out how that right will be considered in the administration of the Act including: how principles such as environmental justice and non-regression should be considered in implementing the Act, as well as how the right should be balanced with social, health, economic and scientific considerations.

In Canada, jurisdiction to regulate the environment is shared between the provinces and the Federal Government. CEPA is the cornerstone of Canada’s federal environmental protection law.

The Government’s proposed changes to CEPA include:

  • Recognizing a right to a healthy environment for every individual in Canada as provided for under CEPA – the first time this has occurred a federal statute in Canada.
  • Assessing real life exposure based on the cumulative effects of a substance in combination with exposure to other substances.
  • Protecting vulnerable populations – CEPA amendments will also require that the Government exercise its powers in ways that minimize risks to the health of vulnerable populations. and better-protecting populations most at risk due to greater susceptibility or potential exposure to harmful substances.
  • Reducing Reliance on Animal Testing – Amendments to the preamble of CEPA will recognize the need to reduce reliance on animal testing when assessing the risks that substances may pose on human health and the environment. 
  • Implementing a new regime for toxic substances that pose the highest risk. The new regime will prioritize the prohibition of uses and releases of substances toxic under CEPA that meet criteria set out in regulations to be considered of the highest risk.
  • Supporting the shift to less harmful chemicals through the establishment of a Watch List of substances capable of meeting the criteria in CEPA to be considered at risk if, for example, there should be an increase in exposure. The amendments will require the Ministers to publish and maintain a list of substances that are capable of becoming toxic.
  • Creating a new Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities. The Bill provides for public input on the development of a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities, which will set out an integrated plan for the assessment and management of substances as well as supporting activities such as research, monitoring, information-gathering and risk communication.
  • Amending the Food and Drugs Act (FDA) to provide the ability to develop a regulatory framework under the FDA to assess and manage the environmental risks of new drugs. This will remove the requirement to notify and assess new drugs under both the FDA and CEPA.   

In addition to these amendments to CEPA, the Government says that it will take action to improve information for supply chain managers and to enhance mandatory labelling for certain consumer products, giving Canadians greater access to information about the substances to which they are exposed.

Updating the regulatory framework for products of biotechnology

The Government also announced that, to keep pace with the  rapidly evolving biotechnology sector, it will undertake a full and comprehensive review of the New Substances Notification Regulations (Organisms), which provide for the assessment of risks posed by new living organisms prior to their being introduced into the Canadian marketplace.

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Manning Environmental Law is a Canadian law firm based in Toronto, Ontario. Our practice is focussed on environmental law, energy law and aboriginal law. 

Paul Manning is a certified specialist in environmental law. He has been named as one of the World’s Leading Environmental Lawyers and one of the World’s Leading Climate Change Lawyers by Who’s Who Legal. Paul is also ranked by Lexpert as one of Canada’s Leading Practitioners in Environmental Law.

As always, these posts  are provided only as a general guide and are not legal advice. If you do have any issue that requires legal advice please get in touch. Our contact details can be found here

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