Intervenor: Vol 23. No 2 April - June 1998

Executive Director's Report: CELA's Strength is Acting Locally, and an Update on Bill C-32 ... CEPA Resurrected

During a number of recent public speaking engagements, I have been asked what CELA is and how it differs from other groups that work in the environmental arena. The questions did give me the opportunity to think about what roles CELA plays and the kind of contribution the organization has made, and continues to make, over the years.

One of the key, and perhaps distinguishing, features of CELA is the pride the organization takes in representing the "underdog" in the fight for environmental protection. By and large, CELA's constituency in terms of legal representation are those individuals, families and groups who otherwise could not afford a lawyer but need legal assistance. Whether it is a group attempting to save a wetland or a family having a problem with a nearby landfill site, CELA is often able to provide the needed help.

Another defining feature of CELA is its networking ability. Through both national and provincial networks, CELA is "tapped into" what environmental and community groups are facing and what they're doing about it on a regular basis. Moreover, CELA continues to expand its networks with other constituencies and communities - aboriginal interests, labour, and health care professionals, among others. Historically, CELA has always looked at grassroots organizing as a predominant approach to effecting real change in society. New tools like the internet (our website and e-mail) have been embraced to enhance this approach.

In this issue of the Intervenor, you will learn about some of the many "local actions" CELA has, and is, supporting.

As a final note, I would like to welcome Theresa McClenaghan as the new counsel at CELA. Theresa has practised environmental law for 10 years, since 1988, almost exclusively for public interest advocacy groups, citizens' groups and First Nations. Her practice has included hearings before the Environmental Assessment Board, the Environmental Appeal Board, the Ontario Energy Board and the Ontario Municipal Board, as well as Court challenges and environmental litigation in the Courts.

Her expertise includes public interest advocacy in the areas of waste management, landfill siting, Ontario's nuclear and energy industries, contaminated sites clean up, environmental aspects of land use planning, and constitutional law issues.

Update on Bill C-32 ... CEPA resurrected

For four years, CELA has played a pivotal role in coordinating input into the legislative review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, (CEPA). CELA acts as chair of the Toxics Caucus of the Canadian Environmental Network and, as such, we have attempted to ensure that groups from across Canada have had a say in the problems with the present statute and how it should be reformed.

In December 1996, the federal government introduced Bill C-74, the new CEPA, into first reading. Environmental groups expressed deep disappointment with the Bill, especially with respect to its provisions governing toxic substances and citizens' rights. Bill C-74 died on the order paper with the call of the federal election. However, in March 1998, a substantially similar Bill was introduced, Bill C-32. The Bill received second reading in April and was referred to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development in May. Since then, the Committee has been holding public hearings on the Bill. CELA appeared before the Committee in early June.

Although there are some positive aspects to the Bill, like its predecessor, most groups are disappointed with it. Some of the weak aspects of the Bill include:

  • the fact that it will be subordinate to the new harmonization agreement, the "Canada-Wide Accord on Environmental Harmonization", in effect legitimizing the devolution of some federal environmental responsibilities to the provinces;
  • inclusion of the goal of "virtual elimination" of certain toxic substances, while laudable on its face, actually allows for the continued use and generation of some of the most dangerous substances, like dioxins;
  • very weak and highly qualified access to the courts to enforce the new law; and
  • a definite weakening of the ability of Environment Canada to regulate the products of biotechnology. The Standing Committee has now recessed for the summer and during that time CELA will be preparing an in-depth, clause-by-clause review of the Bill in anticipation of the resumption of hearings in the fall. CELA will continue to pursue all avenues to ensure that Bill C-32 is amended to ensure better protection of human health and the environment.

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Paul Muldoon is a lawyer at CELA