Media Release

Groups Issue Warning: Keep Existing Pollution Law Rather Than Introduce Weaker One Lobbied for by Industry and Provinces

Mar 11 1998

Ottawa. Environmental groups would rather have no bill than one that fails to protect human health and the environment. This is the message that was presented by the Canadian Environmental Law Association at a media conference in Ottawa today in anticipation of a new Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) being tabled for First Reading in Parliament this week. The media conference was also attended by spokespersons from the Innuit Tapirisat of Canada and the Canadian Labour Congress."We know that the Environment Minister has made significant concessions to the provinces and to industry. We expect the bill to be toothless at best and a serious retreat from the existing act," noted Paul Muldoon, Executive Director with the Canadian Environmental Law Association and co-chair of the Toxics Caucus of the Canadian Environmental Network. "The simple fact is that unless the bill aggressively deals with toxics by phasing out the worst ones and ensures that industry adopts preventive measures to deal with pollution, we will be more than glad to keep the existing law." CEPA was originally enacted in 1988 and has been under review since 1994. It purports to address such matters as the regulation of toxic substances, biotechnology, international air pollution, citizen rights, and others. In 1994, the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development was mandated to review CEPA and released their report entitled, It's About Our Health: Toward Pollution Prevention, on June 15, 1995. This 365 page report included 141 recommendations and called for a total rewrite of the statute. A bill, Bill C-74, was introduced in December of 1996 which was not well received by non-governmental groups, mostly because it did not implement many of the recommendations proposed by the Standing Committee. The bill died on the order paper with the call of the 1997 federal election. The Liberals made an election commitment to re-introduce a new CEPA bill. Owing to the recent Environmental Accord concluded in January of this year, environmentalists are also concerned that the new proposed law will make the federal government less able to regulate since the provinces will no doubt be given a greater role under the proposed CEPA. "The Accord will ensure that CEPA will be rarely, if ever, used. The federal government appears more than happy to devolve its powers to the provinces," noted Muldoon. There are also concerns that the new bill will downgrade the status of CEPA from being Canada's primary environmental protection statute to that of a residual law, which is only applied in the absence of other federal laws or action by the provinces. "Our fear is that the bill will significantly weaken the existing provisions of CEPA regarding the protection of human health and the environment from products of biotechnology. This is of serious concern in light of the growing body of scientific evidence of significant environmental problems associated with the use of products of biotechnology, such as crops that have been genetically engineered to be resistant to herbicides, or to produce their own pesticides," states Mark Winfield, Director of Research, with the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy and co-chair of the Biotechnology Caucus of the Canadian Environment Network. The legislation is expected to proceed to Second Reading early this Spring and then to hearings by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.- 30 -For more information:Paul Muldoon, Executive Director, Canadian Environmental Law Association, 416-960-2284