Guide to understanding the Canadian Environmental Protection Act: chapter 13

13. Government operations and federal and Aboriginal lands

13.1 What are government operations, federal facilities and Aboriginal lands?

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999) applies to activities on Government of Canada lands. This includes federal departments, boards and agencies, federal works and undertakings, Crown corporations, federal land, persons on that land and other persons in so far as their activities involve that land. This part of the act also applies to Aboriginal lands.

13.2 Why is there a special part of CEPA 1999 for government operations and federal and Aboriginal lands?

CEPA 1999 applies to all Canadian persons, whether individuals or companies, including federal operations. This means that regulations for toxic substances, fuels, disposal at sea and other matters apply equally to federal operations. Compliance is monitored and CEPA 1999 violations by federal operations are dealt with in the same manner as any other violations, including court action such as injunction and prosecution.

However, under Canada's Constitution, provincial environmental laws do not generally apply to federal lands. This means that federal operations and land, including aboriginal land, are, for the most part, not subject to provincial regulations or permit systems covering emissions, effluents, environmental emergencies, waste handling and other environmental matters. The non-application of these environmental protection laws creates the so-called "environmental protection regulatory gap" with respect to federal departments, boards, agencies, Crown corporations, federal works and undertakings on federal and aboriginal lands.

Under CEPA 1999, Environment Canada can establish regulatory and non-regulatory instruments to manage many, but not all, of the environmental protection risks on federal and aboriginal lands that would otherwise be addressed by provincial and territorial legislation.

13.3 How is CEPA 1999 used to manage government operations and federal and Aboriginal lands?

CEPA 1999 provides the government with broad powers to issue a range of nationally applied regulatory and non-regulatory tools specifically for activities carried out on federal and aboriginal lands. These regulatory and non-regulatory tools include the use of regulations, pollution prevention planning and the creation of codes of practice and guidelines for operations where non-regulatory measures would effectively protect the environment and human health. When created, these tools apply throughout Canada. This means that federal entities, federal land or aboriginal land situated in one province have the same standards as federal entities, federal land or aboriginal land situated in another province. In certain circumstances, CEPA 1999 may also be used to develop tools that would apply only to federal entities, federal land or only to aboriginal lands, but the standards would have to be the same across the country, even though the corresponding provincial requirements may vary across the country.

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