Intervenor: Volume 24 No.1 January - March 1999

Ontario Policy 1999: The Right to Know

The public must have the ability to know what actual or potential government polices actions and legislation are being undertaken that may cause harm to the environment and who is doing it. This is the essence of what environmental activists have been promoting for decades—the right to know information that affects their health and environment. Over the past number of years, there has been an erosion of environmental monitoring activities in Ontario. The gradual dismantling of the province’s environmental reporting activities raise serious questions about the ability of the public to understand the state of the province’s environment, and to evaluate the impact of government decisions regarding its protection. Communities and individuals have a fundamental right to know about activities that place their safety, health and environment at risk.The basic rationale for this right is straightforward

  • The public needs to know what activities are affecting their health and environment in order to protect themselves and in order to make the proper consumer decisions.
  • The public needs to know more information in order that appropriate solutions can be sought to address those activities.
  • The public needs to know more information in order to keep those that may be threatening the integrity of the environment accountable for action. 

Essential elements of the Right-to-Know(Recommendations)There are many different, but complementary, visions of what is meant by the right to know. What is required is a general commitment by government to recognize our right to know about what affects our health and environment. Two crucial features include environmental reporting and Access to information. Our recommendations fall under these two headings ...Environmental Reporting

  • There is need for a comprehensive state of the environment report for the province every two years. This should include information on environmental quality, the status of natural resources, including biological diversity. Reporting activities should be linked to the development of sustainability objectives and indicators by the provincial government.
  • The Environmental Bill of Rights should be amended to permit the Office of the Environmental Commissioner to comment on the adequacy of the provincial government’s state of the environment reports, the sustainability objectives and indicators established by the provincial government, and the impact of government decisions on the state of the province’s environment and natural resources.
  • The province’s major environmental and natural resources management statutes should be amended to require tabling of annual reports to the Legislature on the administration and enforcement of these Acts.

Access to InformationAmend the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to:

  • enhance the ability of citizens to receive information (for example, removing the discretion to release information on the basis that the requests are "frivolous and vexatious.");
  • reduce the costs of access to information for Ontarians;
  • place the onus agencies denying access to a record in the basis of the exemptions.

_______________________________Paul Muldoon is a lawyer at CELA