Canada taking next steps on the right to a healthy environment and environmental justice and racism


On February 8, 2024, the Government of Canada launched consultation and engagement activities with Canadians on the right to a healthy environment in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA), and is developing a national strategy to advance environmental justice, and to assess, prevent, and address environmental racism.

A right to a healthy environment

On June 13, 2023, Bill S-5, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act, received royal assent. The Bill modernized the Act and represented the first set of comprehensive amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act since it was enacted over 20 years ago.

Through this Bill, the Government of Canada recognizes for the first time in federal law that every individual in Canada has a right to a healthy environment as provided under the Act, requiring that decisions made under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act protect that right.

The Government is developing an implementation framework to set out how the right will be considered in administering the Act. The framework will explain how decisions made under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act will consider principles such as:

  • Environmental justice: includes the avoidance of adverse effects that disproportionately affect certain populations
  • Non-regression: includes maintaining current levels of protection and may also include continuous improvement in environmental and health protection
  • Intergenerational equity: includes the importance of meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs

The framework will also describe relevant factors to consider in interpreting and applying the right and determining its reasonable limits.

Addressing environmental racism and advancing environmental justice in Canada

In December 2021, the mandate letter for the Minister of Environment and Climate Change included a commitment to introduce legislation to require the development of an environmental justice strategy. In March 2022, the Government supported the private Member’s Bill C-226, An Act Respecting the Development of a National Strategy to Assess, Prevent and Address Environmental Racism and to Advance Environmental Justice in Parliament.

This Bill includes the requirement to have a strategy to promote efforts across Canada to advance environmental justice and to assess, prevent, and address environmental racism. This includes a study looking at the links between race, socio-economic status, and environmental risks. The strategy will include these findings and measures to advance environmental justice, such as possible amendments to federal laws, policies, and programs.

Environmental justice and environmental racism are broad concepts that can be applied in various contexts. While environmental racism and justice is a new area of work for the Government of Canada, grassroots organizations have significant knowledge and experience in advocating for communities and raising awareness on these issues. The Government of Canada aims to work with these organizations, affected communities, and those with lived experiences to inform the development of a national strategy.

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