Canada To Get Environmental Bill of Rights?

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development is currently hearing witnesses on a Bill C-469, An Act to establish a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights, a private member’s bill introduced by Linda Duncan, NDP MP for Strathcona (Edmonton).

MiningWatch’s Jamie Kneen testified before the Committee on November 1, 2010. Other witnesses have included Ecojustice, Friends of the Earth, and environmental law experts Stewart Elgie and David Boyd. The Committee is scheduled to hear from industry witnesses as well, including the Shipping Federation of Canada, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

According to Duncan, the purpose of the bill is “to implement the right to a clean, healthy environment, an ecologically balanced environment for all Canadians, and impose the duty on the government to uphold those rights.”

The bill would amend the Canadian Charter of Rights to include the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment. It would also:
• establish a right to participate in environmental decision-making, guaranteeing public notification and consultation;
• guarantee public access to environmental information, strengthening the existing (and weakening) access to information regime;
• guarantee a right to request review of federal policies, regulations and laws;
• guarantee a right to request an investigation if federal authorities are observed to be failing to enforce the law’
• guarantee access to justice: people could sue to have environmental laws enforced; and
• establish whistleblower protection for civil servants who go public with documentation of government wrong-doing in environmental protection.

Some of the elements of the Bill of Rights already exist in various forms different federal laws. For example, in addition to the existing Access to Information Act, the Canadian Environmental Protecion Act (CEPA), the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) and the Species at Risk Act (SARA) all have public information and notification provisions as well as public participation provisions, but the Environmental Bill of Rights would provide a stronger and more uniform baseline. There is also existing whistleblower protection legislation, but it is widely seen as ineffective.

The governing Conservatives are opposing the Bill, but if the opposition MPs on the Committee can work together to make the necessary amendments and ensure their parties’ support, the Bill it could conceivably become law.