On June 14th, 2023, Bill S-5, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act, received Royal Assent. CAPE joins in celebrating Canada’s first law recognizing the right to a healthy environment and updates to the CEPA framework for toxic substances.
In a news conference held after the bill’s passage into law, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and the bill’s sponsor Senator Stan Kutcher acknowledged environmental and health groups support for the strengthened bill.
The CAPE community played an important role in strengthening this bill, from testifying before the Senate and House committees, to sending messages to the Ministers and MPs, to directly meeting with MPs and Senators during CAPE Lobby Day, to writing commentaries for various publications. You shared the message that modernizing the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA),1999 is critical for the health and well-being of all people in Canada and decision-makers listened.
The Government of Canada posted a backgrounder and summary of amendments to Bill S-5 outlining how they strengthen Canada’s cornerstone environmental law. Among other changes,
- It introduces long-overdue updates for the control of toxic substances and dangerous chemicals, which includes requiring that priority be given to the prohibition of 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 — ensuring environmental protections cannot be rolled back. It also requires the federal government to consider the cumulative impacts of toxics, and their effects on vulnerable populations.
As quoted in the Government of Canada News Release CAPE Board President Dr. Melissa Lem said: “The passage of Bill S-5 today brings long-awaited reforms to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) – and this is good news for environmental and human health, and environmental justice.” This is good news for all people in Canada and welcome news for health professionals whose patients suffer the negative health effects of polluted environments every day.
As we celebrate this good news, we are making plans moving forward. We will need to work with the government and hold them accountable as they get to work on implementing the modernized CEPA. And we will be working on developing and sharing our priorities and recommendations for additional changes to CEPA in a future bill based on our ongoing analysis of the needs.
For now, I celebrate with you and the many others who worked hard for this critical update for environmental and human health and environmental justice.
Dr. Jane McArthur, PhD
Toxics Program Director