Long-awaited bill to update Canadian Environmental Protection Act faces final MP vote

OTTAWA | TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED TERRITORY OF THE ALGONQUIN ANISHNAABEG PEOPLE – Bill S-5, which seeks to reform the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) for the first in more than two decades, must be passed into law as soon as possible this spring, say five leading health and environmental groups. The House of Commons committee studying the legislation reported the bill with amendments yesterday. MPs must now approve the bill in a final vote.

While Bill S-5 does not address all aspects of CEPA in need of modernization, its passage will represent important progress:

  • It introduces long-overdue updates for the control of toxic substances and dangerous chemicals, including requiring that priority be given to prohibiting the most hazardous substances. The bill also updates the framework for assessing and managing toxic substances and improves transparency and accountability.
  • The right to a healthy environment will be recognized for the first time under federal law. The legislation establishes a new duty for the government to uphold the principles of environmental justice, intergenerational equity and non-regression. It also requires the federal government to consider the cumulative impacts of toxics, and their effects on vulnerable populations.

The groups welcomed the introduction of the original version of this bill in April 2021 and called for it to be prioritized and strengthened. Following the 2021 elections, the bill was reintroduced in the Senate as S-5 last year and then progressed to the House. The Senate and House committees that studied the bill passed amendments that improve key provisions, addressing some – though not all – of the groups’ recommendations.

The groups now call on all MPs to prioritize the passage of these important updates to CEPA, Canada’s cornerstone environmental law.

While passage of the bill is urgent, it is regrettable that members of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development rejected proposed amendments to require action on air pollution, labelling of hazardous substances in consumer products and clear timelines for action on toxics, among other proposals – such as improving control of genetically modified animals and strengthening CEPA requirements for pollution prevention planning – to further strengthen Bill S-5.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault has indicated that he intends to introduce a second CEPA modernization bill. It will need to address these outstanding recommendations for CEPA reform, to complement Bill S-5.

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The groups supporting this statement are:

  • Environmental Defence
  • Breast Cancer Action Quebec
  • Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE)
  • David Suzuki Foundation
  • Ecojustice

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