Issues and possible approaches, Canadian Environmental Protection Act: discussion paper

Prepared by Environment and Climate Change Canada

May, 2016

Download Discussion Paper in PDF Format, 987KB


The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) is an important federal law aimed at preventing pollution and protecting the environment and human health. The Minister of Environment and Climate Change (ECC) is responsible for administering most of CEPA. Some provisions are jointly administered with the Minister of Health. For more information on CEPA, please see the CEPA Environmental Registry.

CEPA is a large, complex and powerful law. When CEPA was originally created in 1988, it consolidated selected provisions and laws administered by Environment Canada and other federal departments. For example, it replaced the Environmental Contaminants Act of 1975, and subsumed the Clean Air Act, the Ocean Dumping Act, the nutrient provisions of the Canada Water Act and certain provisions of the Department of the Environment Act. The 1988 version of the Act underwent an extensive Parliamentary review, which ultimately led to CEPA 1999 (referred to in this paper as CEPA).Footnote1

For the most part, CEPA is an enabling statute that authorizes action on a wide range of environmental and health risks - from chemicals to air and water pollution to wastes and emergencies. It provides a suite of tools that can be used to identify, assess and address these risks. In many cases, CEPA authorizes more than one possible approach to address a given risk. This ensures that the Government can choose the approach that is most effective. As such, CEPA has been used as the legislative basis for many of the federal government’s environmental and health protection programs. As a result of these programs, considerable progress has been made towards preventing pollution and protecting human health and the environment.

Despite being a fundamentally sound and well-structured Act, there are numerous issues with CEPA that need to be addressed. These have been identified by ECCC and Health Canada in the course of implementing CEPA for sixteen years. The list of issues has been informed by the development and delivery of programs, discussions and work with other governments and Indigenous Peoples, recommendations from the Parliamentary committees that reviewed the Act in 2007Footnote2 and 2008Footnote3, and ideas generated through public consultationsFootnote4 held in 2004 and 2005 and through ongoing interactions with stakeholders.

Of the various issues associated with CEPA, this Discussion Paper identifies those issues that are important and meaningful to our partners and stakeholders, and provides possible approaches to address them.

The issues noted in this paper are wide ranging - both in subject matter and in scope - reflecting the nature of CEPA itself and its programs. However, they are individually and collectively important to consider in ensuring a strong legislative basis for delivering existing programs and for addressing new priorities related to the protection of the environment and human health.

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