Intervenor: Vol 23. No 4 October - December 1998

Bill C-32 (CEPA) Still In Committee

It seems ironic that while medical studies continue to mount suggesting the link between environment degradation and human ill-health, the federal government continues to miss a golden opportunity to further both environmental and human health goals in the proposed new Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA, Bill C-32). Recently, the media reported on a study that showed testicular cancer has risen by nearly 60 per cent over the past 60 years (Globe and Mail, January 26, 1999). This study is similar to other studies that provide a link between our environment and our health, such as the seven-fold increase in breast cancer since the 1950s; and increases in a host of insidious and subtle health effects, from immune suppression to learning disabilities and behaviour problems.

Despite this growing body of evidence, Environment Canada seems unwilling to introduce any further important improvements to Bill C-32. As it stands now, Bill C-32 has passed second reading and is proceeding through a "clause-by-clause" review (that is, voting on each provision of the bill) before the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. In fact, the committee has been reviewing the bill since the fall and it is expected that the committee will be working on the bill well into March of this year.

Interestingly, there have been over 400 amendments filed by the various parties. Despite the number of amendments, the government has made sure that very few of these amendments have actually been accepted. One of the amendments that was accepted revises the definition of "virtual elimination." Under the bill, the most dangerous substances to human health are supposed to be "virtually eliminated". These are "bad actor" substances, with proven track records of toxicity. They include persistant organic pollutants such as DDT, chlordane, furans, dioxins, PCBs. Many have been linked to cancer; all are known to disrupt the endocrine system. 

Yet, Bill C-32 defines the term "virtual elimination" in such a way (by saying industry cannot release toxc substances in measurable amounts) that would allow the continued use and generation of these substances. While the revised definition clarifies the original intent of "virtual elimination", the same problem still exists: the use and generation of these substances are not addressed in the definition. Another change relates to the definition of "endocrine disrupting substances". However, this definition relates to research rather than the regulatory components of the bill.

While the government majority on the Standing Committee are pushing ahead with their agenda, some very interesting dynamics among the government members are emerging. On a number of key provisions, it is common to have several government members of the Committee vote against the government's proposals. These divisions within party ranks have certainly made the Committee hearings more interesting and will hopefully cause the Environment Minister to ask why even members of her own party are having so many problems with Bill C-32. While there remains the opportunity for significant positive reforms, it is apparent that industry and pro-industry departments are keeping their eye on the bill and are able and ready to gear up their lobby should the government propose any serious diversion from its less-than-adequate path forward with the bill. Environmental groups across Canada, with CELA taking a major lead, remain committed to attempting to convince the Canadian public that both their environment, and their health, demand a stronger, more progressive law than Bill C-32, as it stands now, will become.

What CELA wants in CEPA

  • Recognition that CEPA is the cornerstone of federal environmental law and policy, rather than legislation to be used only when other federal laws are unavailable.
  • A clear statement that it is the intention of the government to totally eliminate the most dangerous substances.
  • Regulations that will enforce that intention.
  • Strong, unqualified access to the courts for the public to ensure the new law is enforced.
  • More clout to Environment Canada to regulate the products of biotechnology, such as bovine growth hormone (BGH).
  • The deletion of a section in the current Bill that would make CEPA subordinate to the Canada-Wide Accord on Environmental Harmonization, see related information below.
  • The implementation of mandatory pollution prevention measures that require industry to change product formulation or to use new or different materials to prevent pollution.

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Paul Muldoon is a lawyer at CELA