Intervenor: Vol 23. No 3 July - September 1998

Executuve Director's Report: Why Thinking Globally Is Important To Acting Locally

Any observer of CELA's activities will notice that this organization is frequently involved in international issues. This is for good reason. First, it is clearly apparent that international law, such as trade treaties and agreements, do limit the ability of national and provincial decision-makers to take actions to protect the environment. Unless organizations like CELA can fight for appropriate international rules, the fight for more appropriate domestic environmental laws and policies will become frustrating and futile.

The now classic example of this is the whole MMT debate, in which Canada was unsuccessful in prohibiting the use of MMT in gasoline, (see article about Ethyl Corp, in related information, below).

On another front, CELA is representing itself and Great Lakes United in the appeal by Nova Group of the revocation of its permit to export Lake Superior water by tanker to Asia. The appeal arose because the Ministry of the Environment at first issued the permit and then, after the permit began drawing fire from both sides of the border, the Ministry cancelled it, (see Lake Superior update, in related information, below).

On the other side of the international coin is the question of whether domestic lawmakers are going far enough to protect the environment, and the health, of Canadians. We don't think they are. The new Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the recent Canada-Wide Accord on Environmental Harmonization are cases in point.

Throughout the fall of 1998, the federal Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development has been hearing submissions and debating Bill C-32, the new Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). This domestic law will have profound significance for the development of international law. First, the bill proposes to define the "virtual elimination" of toxic substances in a completely inappropriate way-by saying industry can't release toxic substances in measurable amounts. Focussing on the end of the manufacturing process in this way is an old-fashioned approach and begs the question, "what is a 'measurable amount'?". In practice, it will mean that industry will be allowed to continue to use and generate the most dangerous substances known.

CEPA's definition of "virtual elimination" is in stark contrast to the key policy goal under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement-that the worst known substances should be phased out and industry's processes changed so they are not used or generated in the first place. By defining the term in Bill C-32 in the way it does, Bill C-32 will undermine twenty years of work under the Water Quality Agreement, including the International Joint Commission's oft-repeated, and correct, interpretation of "virtual elimination".

Through the Toxics Caucus of the Canadian Environmental Network, CELA has also closely monitored and participated in the international POPs treaty process. CELA staff attended the first negotiation session in Montreal, and have been actively attempting to influence what positions Canada can take in order to ensure that the government will make the strongest case possible on behalf of Canadians. World Wildlife Fund Canada has also been active in the POPs process. A landmark document aimed at promoting alternatives to the use of DDT for malaria control in southern countries was jointly released by WWF US and WWF Canada at the Montreal meeting, see related information below.

Unfortunately, Bill C-32 will probably form the negotiating position for Canada for the current negotiations for a global treaty on toxics, and more specifically, on persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Unless Bill C-32 can be fixed, especially the definition of "virtual elimination", then Canada will be promoting an inappropriate toxics policy globally.

Then there is the Canada-Wide Accord on Environmental Harmonization. In March 1998, CELA brought an action in federal courts against the federal Minister of the Environment in order to challenge the Accord, see related information below. On the policy side, CELA is afraid the Accord will lead to an-overall lowering of environmental standards. On the legal side we are alleging that the Minister is inappropriately downloading her responsibilities to the provinces.

These examples all point to the fact that we at CELA must continue to involve ourselves in international issues in order to understand their impact on CELA's provincial and federal law reform initiatives and to understand the implications that our law reform initiatives may hold for international law matters. There is no doubt that the interplay between national and international interests--between the global and the local--will increase over time.

Paul Muldoon is a lawyer at CELA