Intervenor: Vol 23. No 4 October - December 1998

Executive Director's Report: CELA's Core Mandate is Working in The Public Interest

1999 will be a busy year for CELA and one that will reaffirm our core mandate. While the polls have consistently suggested that the Canadian public want more protective laws for the environment and human health, governments seem to be going in the opposite direction. In fact, it seems the public is becoming less confident about the ability and willingness of governments to adequately protect the environment and our health.

The growing lack of confidence in government performance is certainly not reserved for one level of government. The global zeal for freer trade regimes reinforces the assumption that there are no limits to quantitative growth and consumption as well as creating real barriers for countries to take sustainable conservation measures. Unfortunately, Canada has played a key role in promoting these new trade regimes despite the vulnerability it creates for its own natural resources, see related information below.

The upcoming year will also provide a clearer picture of the federal government's agenda to devolve its role and responsibilities to the provinces under the "Canada-wide Accord on Environmental Harmonization." While CELA's challenge to this Accord was argued earlier this year, it is apparent the environment has become a political football being passed from one level of government to another, see related information below. Unfortunately resources and capacity that all can bring to environmental protection are slipping away.

The continuing saga of the efforts for a stronger and improved Canadian Environmental Protection Act, (CEPA), illustrates how difficult it is to make even modest changes to address toxic pollution, see related information below. 

Of course, the provincial record on the environment has been well documented in the Intervenor. The dramatic downsizing coupled with regulatory roll-backs has resulted in many Ontarians wondering who is going to protect the environment.

As governments continue to discount the public interest in, and the ecological demand for, more stringent and comprehensive environmental laws and institutions, it is society's low-income and disadvantaged communities who disproportionately bear the brunt of the burden. These constituencies neither have resources to challenge inappropriate government decisions nor do they have the capacity to take on industry. Moreover, it is for this reason that CELA takes on the role of assisting these constituencies as part of its core mandate.

Hence, 1999 will be an important year for CELA and public interest groups across the country to work to alert the public to the ecological and human health threats posed by environmental degradation, and to the need for government to renew its interest and duty to protect the environment for present and future generations.

Bill 68, the new Legal Aid Services Act is Law

In December, the Legal Aid Services Act, 1998 was passed into law. The law transfers the mandate to deliver legal aid services from the Law Society of Upper Canada to Legal Aid Ontario, a corporate entity. The Act does have some positive attributes including the recognition that clinics are a key mechanism for delivering legal aid in the province.

One of the concerns raised by CELA when it appeared before the legislative committee reviewing the bill was that the definition of the "clinic law" (that is, the core areas of law for the clinics) does not mention the word "environment". Instead, it states that clinic law means areas of law which particularly affect low-income individuals or disadvantaged communities, including human rights, health, employment and education.

In response to correspondence, the Environment Minister, Norm Sterling, assured CELA that the definition was inclusive and not exhaustive, and that CELA's areas of law are sufficiently covered within the existing definition with the terms "disadvantaged communities", "human rights" and "health". Hence, CELA fully intends to continue its work providing legal and outreach services with the same energy and commitment as it has for the past three decades.

Paul Muldoon is a lawyer at CELA