December 2013 Year-end Highlights

Happy Holidays to all of our staff, partners, and funders! After a busy year, this Bulletin captures some key highlights from 2013.

This year, we said a fond farewell to Sarah Miller, our water policy campaigner who’s spent 30 years with CELA. Sarah leaves a special legacy at CELA and in her retirement continues as co-chair of the Environmental and Occupational Working Group of the Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition.

As a legal clinic, our work is done on behalf of vulnerable individuals and communities: in the courts, in advocating for new or better laws, and in our public legal education. Thanks for being part of our accomplishments this year.

Some highlights from 2013

Nothing pleases public interest lawyers more than a precedent-setting decision from Canada’s top court. In a very important decision for Canadian environmental law, the Supreme Court affirmed for the first time the validity of applying the precautionary principle to Ontario environmental legislation. This decision joins the Hudson decision on pesticide bylaws in a special place in CELA’s history of litigation successes related to the precautionary principle.

CELA’s lawyers also represented citizens groups fighting mega-landfills and obtained a positive response from the Ontario Government about our request for a review of the Environmental Bill of Rights, filed a Notice of Objection on the federal government’s decision to extend a conditional registration for pesticides implicated in widespread bee deaths, and worked on our clients’ behalf to protect drinking water, groundwater, watersheds and more. A significant part of our work this year was about the nuclear fuel chain – building new nukes, refurbishing old nukes, emergency planning around nukes, blowing open secrecy around the federal nuclear liability law, and plans to bury nuclear waste.

Public interest lawyers also pretty excited when we help to pass progressive new laws. In two welcome additions to Ontario law this year, we saw the passage of the Local Food Act which will help expand local food production and the introduction of Bill 83, the Protection of Public Participation Act, 2013, to prevent lawsuits intended to stifle public debate.

Among our other law reform work, we continued our multi-year effort to ensure the enduring implementation of Ontario safe drinking water laws, standards and policies that resulted from the Walkerton Inquiry. We also helped clients with advocacy on the Great Lakes-St Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement. CELA also strongly supported Ontario’s coal phase‐out plan, and provided detailed input to Ontario’s long-term energy plan. We noted, for example, the importance of incorporating renewable energy and addressing energy poverty, an issue we continue to address through our collaboration with the Low Income Energy Network advocating for a low income rate assistance program.

Another large area of CELA activity is our work to protect Canadians from toxic substances. In 2013, we continued to prepare comments to Environment Canada and Health Canada under the Chemicals Management Plan on proposals regarding chemicals management including perfluorinated compounds, flame retardants and volatile organic compounds. We also regularly monitored negotiations towards a global treaty on mercury via submissions, articles, and advocated for the prohibition of the use, manufacture, release, export and disposal of asbestos.

Continuing a tradition that is almost 25 years-old, CELA provided expert analysis of various trade and investment agreements such as the Canada-European-Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection Agreement (FIPA). We’ll continue to work with other trade justice organizations in analyzing the impacts of these trade agreements and proposals on Ontario’s environmental regulations.

The third major pillar of our legal aid work is public legal education and the support of community development. Our website at continues to be a repository of everything we produce. And we use social media and this Bulletin to publicize its availability. The website received over 33,000 visits this year. This year we added over 65 publications, over 30 media releases, several new thematic collections, and more FAQs and fact sheets on topics such as CELA’s legal services, source water protection and radon.

This year, webinars proved extremely popular. CELA staff used this online tool to reach many hundreds of people to discuss promoting local food production, nuclear waste, and links between early environmental exposures and latent chronic disease.

We also continued our groundbreaking work with the Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition, a unique collaboration of government, community agencies and organizations along with cancer survivors and citizens. In support of Toronto’s Community Right-to-Know bylaw, TCPC released the new ChemTRAC database which includes information on 25 of the most health-threatening substances found in Toronto’s air.

We also started many exciting new projects, including one with the Pays Plat First Nation to address drinking water source protection. The project will identify, assess and mitigate threats to Pays Plat’s source water. We hope our work will lead to the production of a First Nations Source Protection Toolkit that other communities will be able to use.