Guide to understanding the Canadian Environmental Protection Act: chapter 17
17. Public Participation
The role of the public in government decision-making processes is critical, as public trust and broad acceptance of risk management measures are acknowledged to be key for effective risk management implementation.
CEPA 1999 provides a structured predictable approach to risk management decision-making that provides for the input and full consideration of public values and concerns at all stages of the decision-making process. The CEPA 1999 decision-making framework:
- enables the government to be informed on an ongoing basis of the public's concerns;
- allows the public to influence the identification of environmental problems to be assessed;
- engages a wide spectrum of stakeholders including environmental groups, industries, aboriginal people, other governments and communities;
- provides an opportunity for public values to influence environmental objectives and solutions; and
- allows the public to articulate the levels of risks that are tolerable or acceptable, which influences the choice of appropriate risk management instruments.
Industry and individuals are continually invited to participate in a wide variety of public consultations through notices published in Canada's official parliamentary journal, the Canada Gazette. All consultations are also posted on the CEPA Environmental Registry website. The primary objective of the Environmental Registry is to communicate various types of initiatives under CEPA 1999 to better allow for public participation in the consultation process and to increase public understanding of the Act. The "Public Participation" section of the CEPA Environmental Registry website highlights all consultation opportunities and provides the background information needed for informed environmental decision-making. The Environmental Registry enables the public to monitor the progress of proposed regulations and other CEPA 1999 instruments.
Part 2 of CEPA 1999 includes whistleblower protection that safeguards an individual's identity when reporting violations under this Act. This protection is extended to all employees in Canada. CEPA 1999 prohibits the disclosure of the identity of individuals who voluntarily report CEPA 1999 violations. In addition, it is an offence to dismiss, harass or discipline any employee who:
- voluntarily reports a CEPA 1999 violation,
- refuses to carry out conduct that the employee, in good faith, believes may result in a violation of the Act; or
- wishes to carry out conduct required by the Act or its regulations.
Under CEPA 1999, an individual who is at least 18 years of age and a resident of Canada can request that the Minister conduct an investigation of an alleged offence. Should the Minister fail to conduct an investigation or respond unreasonably and if there has been significant harm to the environment, then the individual has the right to proceed with an "Environmental Protection Action." This is a civil suit and seeks remediation of damage to the environment. The individual is not entitled to any personal damage award under the CEPA 1999 provisions, but can seek reimbursement of their costs in bringing the action.
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