Environmental, health and clean cosmetics groups ask for immediate reform to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act

OTTAWA – Parliament must prioritize reform of the outdated Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), says a coalition of environmental, physicians, women’s health and clean cosmetics advocacy groups. The groups are organizing Virtual Days on the Hill for a Toxic-Free and Healthy Environment this week. Hundreds of concerned citizens are joining forces to call on the federal government to fulfil its promise to reform the country’s two-decade old pollution prevention and toxic chemicals law.

For many years, Canadians have demanded meaningful government action to protect vulnerable and marginalized communities from toxic exposures, ban chemicals that cause cancer and hormone disruption, recognize our right to a healthy environment, and require better disclosure of hidden toxics in cosmetic fragrances and other products.

The government’s election platform and recent throne speech included a commitment to modernize CEPA, but without any clear timeline. CEPA modernization was one of two environmental legislative priorities highlighted in the Speech from the Throne.

In 2017, following extensive hearings, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development made 87 recommendations for strengthening CEPA. During the “Virtual Days on the Hill,” groups are urging the federal government to implement these recommendations without further delay.

A House of Commons Petition to strengthen CEPA, signed by more than 8,000 Canadians, was submitted last week. The government must respond within 45 days.

Quotes from groups:

Gregg Renfrew, Founder and CEO, Beautycounter:

“Today’s consumers demand safer products and they deserve them. While companies like Beautycounter are meeting this demand, we cannot change the industry alone. Parliament must act quickly to introduce CEPA reform and ensure businesses like ours can thrive while protecting the health of consumers and the environment.”

Jennifer Beeman, Executive Director, Breast Cancer Action Quebec:

“There is no longer any doubt that toxic chemicals, including endocrine disruptors, are causing breast cancer. They are also responsible for a myriad of other growing health problems including neurological and reproductive disorders. Women, particularly those in vulnerable populations, bear a far greater burden of chemical exposures as well as being put in the impossible position of trying to protect themselves and their families from exposure to toxic chemicals. This government must undertake a serious reform of CEPA if they are to live up to the feminist principles they claim to hold.”

Dr. Samantha Green, Family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and Inner City Health Associates in Toronto and Board Member of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment:

“Exposure to toxics is connected to chronic health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory illnesses – and people living in poverty, like many of my patients, often have the highest toxic exposure. CEPA reform is urgently needed to ensure the health of my patients, especially in this moment when COVID-19 is taking such a toll on people whose health is already compromised.”

Joseph Castrilli, Counsel, Canadian Environmental Law Association:

“Hazardous substances pose a greater risk to vulnerable populations including people of low income, workers, racialized groups, Indigenous communities, women and children. They deserve to be better protected through a stronger environmental health law. This can happen if the Canadian Environmental Protection Act is strengthened towards greater focus on prevention using safe substitutes and creating new obligations for environmental rights. CEPA was last amended over 20 years ago and is overdue for reform. Evidence of environmental harm from hazardous substances shows its necessary for changes to CEPA.”

Lisa Gue, Senior Researcher and Analyst, David Suzuki Foundation:

“The Canadian Environmental Protection Act will set the parameters for a green recovery from COVID-19, so action to strengthen it must not be delayed. CEPA provides the legislative framework for federal action on greenhouse gases, plastics, industrial emissions and more. Integrating a human rights perspective – the right to a healthy environment – will ensure that all people in Canada benefit from environmental protections.”

Dr. Elaine MacDonald, Healthy Communities Program Director, Ecojustice:

“CEPA is Canada’s cornerstone environmental law, but it is out of date and failing to adequately protect Canadians from 21st-century pollution and toxic chemicals. Good laws protect the health and wellbeing of all Canadians, and it is the role of elected officials to make sure that these laws work. While Canada continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that CEPA is modernized to protect public health from dangerous pollution and harmful substances.”

Muhannad Malas, Toxics Program Manager, Environmental Defence:

“Reforming CEPA is not only an important step in reducing the burden of chronic illnesses, it’s also a fundamental step in tackling environmental and racial injustice when it comes to exposure to pollution. The federal government must move quickly to introduce a bill that will meaningfully protect vulnerable and marginalized communities from toxic chemicals in our air, water and consumer products.”

Melanie Langille, Director of Program Development (Environmental Health), Foundation for Resilient Health:

“It is essential for the health of Canadians that we have a modernized CEPA that explicitly protects the most vulnerable from toxic exposures. Most concerning are those toxins that cause illnesses in children even at low doses. The new CEPA must also recognize the importance of increasing protection for Canada’s natural habitats so as to provide a richly biodiverse environment. This is essential for increasing the resiliency of Canadians for generations to come.”

Mark Butler, Senior Advisor, Nature Canada:

“The federal government is considering only minor or housekeeping changes to Part 6 of CEPA which regulates genetically engineered animals. Housekeeping is not what is required in the face of major developments in genetic engineering and the risk these new technologies have for nature and Indigenous Peoples’ rights.”

Cassie Barker, Executive Director, Women’s Healthy Environments Network:

“Canadians have waited long enough for this government’s promises on toxics to be turned into real, progressive action – and the timing could not be more urgent, with the links between air pollution, lung health and COVID-19 rates. We look forward to a stronger CEPA that holds companies accountable for safer cosmetics and consumer products, and healthier communities.”

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Read Environmental Defence’s Modernizing CEPA briefing note.

Statement from:


For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Sarah Jamal, Environmental Defence, sjamal@environmentaldefence.ca, 905-921-7786
Anjali Helferty, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Anjali@cape.ca
Brendan Glauser, David Suzuki Foundation, bGlauser@davidsuzuki.org, 604-356-8829
Sean O’Shea, Ecojustice, soshea@ecojustice.ca, 1-800-926-7744 ext. 277