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Ontario's EBR Turns 20: Time for Change

A number of key milestones will occur in 2014, including: the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One; the 30th anniversary of the Bhopal chemical disaster in India; and the 10th anniversary of the launch of Facebook.

2014 will also mark the 20th anniversary of the date (February 1994) when Ontario’s ground-breaking Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) was proclaimed into force.

Over the past two decades, CELA, environmental groups and concerned residents across the province have used the EBR to help protect the environment, enhance public participation in decision-making, and ensure governmental accountability.

While there have been a number of success stories under the legislation (such as the precedent-setting Lafarge case), it has been increasingly apparent to CELA and other observers that the EBR needs to be updated and strengthened in order to better achieve these important goals.

In 2010, CELA filed an Application for Review of the EBR which identified ten issues which required further improvements and statutory amendments. In 2011, the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) agreed that CELA’s requested review of the EBR would be undertaken in conjunction with a similar review requested by Ecojustice.

As noted by the Environmental Commissioner in his 2010-11 Annual Report (pages 116-19), the MOE’s proposed review offers an important opportunity to engage Ontarians in updating and renewing the EBR.

Having agreed to conduct the requested EBR review, it now unfortunately appears that the MOE’s review of the EBR is occurring at a glacial pace behind closed doors, and that no meaningful steps have been made to engage the public on this important matter.

In October 2012, CELA and other environmental organizations wrote to the Environment Minister to object to the inordinate delay in the EBR review, and to request meaningful opportunities for the public to participate in the EBR review. However, it appears that no tangible progress has been made to date in the EBR review.

In CELA’s view, the continuing refusal of the MOE to engage stakeholders in the EBR review is objectionable, unjustified and highly ironic in light of the EBR’s objective of ensuring public participation in environmental decision-making.

It is also noteworthy that the three year timeframe taken so far by the MOE just to get the focused EBR review underway greatly exceeds the amount of time (ten months) taken by the EBR Task Force to originally draft the EBR in its entirety (September 1991 to July 1992).

In late 2013, CELA again wrote to the Environment Minister to request that the MOE take all necessary steps to expedite the EBR review and to provide meaningful public participation opportunities in this process.

In our view, this collaborative approach must be taken before the MOE makes any final decisions on the outcome of the EBR review. Moreover, these long overdue steps should be taken (or least publicly announced) by the MOE prior to the EBR’s 20th anniversary.

As a long-time advocate of the EBR, CELA concludes that the overarching public interest priority is to ensure that the EBR is appropriately revised so that the legislation will continue to provide effective and enforceable legal tools to address the environmental challenges of the 21st century.