Hot on the heels of several provinces introducing Environmental Bills of Rights (“EBRs”), Ontario has just announced a review of its Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993. In March 2016, both British Columbia (Bill M 236-2016) and Manitoba (Bill 20) introduced EBRs (this was a re-introduction of the Manitoba bill, which died on the order paper when a provincial election was called). In May, 2016, Nova Scotia also introduced an EBR (Bill 178). Prior to the provincial bills, on December 3, 2015, Private Member Linda Duncan introduced a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights for the second time in the House of Commons.
Ontario was at the forefront of environmental legislation when it passed the EBR. At this juncture, the primary criticism of the law is that it is fundamentally a statute about process. The EBR allows for greater information and consultation with citizens, and other processes for environmental participation, but it does not create a substantive right to a healthy environment that could be enforced through citizen-led legal action. In addition, the government branches charged with obligations under the EBR have not necessarily fulfilled their obligations. For example, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (“MOECC”) has a significant number of overdue reviews and a backlog of outdated proposal notices.
You might wonder what accounts for all of this recent activity related to EBRs in Canada. With the introduction of the Blue Dot Movement, which we have written about before, as of July 12, 2016, 136 municipalities have now passed declarations in support of a right to a healthy environment. The ultimate goal of the Blue Dot Movement is to see a right to a healthy environment enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
As part of the Ontario government’s EBR review process, the MOECC states it
[I]s also seeking … input on the right to a healthy environment. There is a movement in Canada to enshrine a right to a healthy environment in a legislative framework, principally in the Canadian Constitution. MOECC is seeking the views of Ontarians so that it may be better positioned to contribute to the national dialogue.
Otherwise, MOECC is seeking “public feedback on select parts of the EBR through a discussion guide.” You have until November 8, 2016, to provide your comments.