Ecojustice applauds proposed Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights

Private members bill will address ‘civil rights issue of our generation’

OTTAWA – Canada’s leading environmental law organization, Ecojustice, is enthusiastically supporting a historic federal bill that would enshrine the right of all Canadians to a healthy environment. The proposed Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights, introduced by Member of Parliament Linda Duncan, received first reading before Parliament on Thursday, October 29, 2009.  

“Environmental health is the civil rights issue of our generation and this bill is a way of securing environmental rights for Canadians,” said Ecojustice lawyer Will Amos. “All members of Parliament should set aside partisan differences to pass this important legislation.”

For years, Ecojustice has recommended that governments recognize the right to a healthy environment.  In 2008, Ecojustice drafted a federal Environmental Bill of Rights on behalf of Friends of the Earth and Sierra Club Canada. Quebec and Ontario have already established legally-binding environmental rights for their citizens, as have at least 130 other countries. Environmental rights are also protected by many regional and international agreements.

“The right to live in a healthy environment enjoys legal recognition in the majority of the world’s nations. Canada has been the behind the curve, but this Bill offers the hope that we might catch up,” said Ecojustice lawyer Margot Venton.

The proposed Bill would impose a legal duty upon the federal government to protect Canadians’ right to a healthy environment, improve access to environmental information and provide whistleblower protection for Canadians who report environmental crimes.  It would also improve access to justice and accountability by giving Canadians the right to bring the federal government to court when it fails to implement environmental laws.

For further information please visit www.ecojustice.ca or contact:

Will Amos, Staff Lawyer, Ottawa-Ecojustice Law Clinic, (613) 255-7505
Margot Venton, Staff Lawyer, Ecojustice (250) 686-1249

Kori Brus, Communications Director, Ecojustice (416) 368 7533 Ext 25

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Background Information: Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights

Ecojustice’s Efforts

Ecojustice is Canada’s leading non-profit organization of lawyers and scientists devoted to protecting the environment. On a pro bono basis, Ecojustice drafted model legislation for a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights for the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth in May of 2008. This model legislation, similar to the proposed bill slated to be considered by Parliament, was created to enshrine in law the right of all Canadians to a healthy environment. At the time of its release, the groups called on Parliamentarians from all federal parties to advance the legislation through the House of Commons. Ecojustice will continue to advocate for a non-partisan approach to the passage of the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights, which would apply only to areas of federal jurisdiction.

Proposed Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights

The proposed bill can be found online at: http://www2.parl.gc.ca/content/hoc/Bills/402/Private/C-469/C-469_1/C-469_1.PDF

Ecojustice supports the proposed Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights because it contains these key provisions:

  • Right to a Healthy and Ecologically Balanced Environment
  • Public Trust Duty on the government
  • Right to Access to Environmental Information
  • Right to Participate in Environmental Decision-Making
  • Right to Request Review of Policies, Regulations and Laws
  • Right to Apply for an Investigation
  • Access to Justice: Right of all Canadians to Bring a Legal Action Before the Courts
  • Whistleblower Protection

Prevalence of Environmental Rights:

  • No fewer than 130 countries across the world already recognize the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions.
  • Existing environmental rights were drafted after the United Nation’s 1972 Stockholm Declaration – the first document in international law recognizing the right to a healthy environment.
  • The provisions of the proposed legislation draw upon existing environmental statutes across Canada, including the Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights, the Yukon Environment Act, the Northwest Territories Environmental Rights Act, and Quebec’s Environmental Quality Act.
  • Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, enacted in 1993, protects citizens’ rights to a healthful environment by strengthening access to information and the courts, increasing public participation in decision-making and ensuring whistleblower protection. Government compliance with the bill is overseen by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, and through citizen engagement.
  • Quebec’s Environment Quality Act, enacted in 1978, recognizes a right to a healthy environment and to effective environmental protection. It allows for Quebec residents to seek an injunction or stop an unauthorized activity that is harming the environment.
  • There is no specific provision in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (or any existing federal statute) which provides for the right to a healthy environment – this is why it is important for Parliament to vote in favour of the proposed Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights.

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