By Lisa Gue
4/8/2019

Across Canada, momentum is building in support of the right to a healthy environment. Now the call for environmental rights has arrived in the nation’s capital.

On April 5, MP Linda Duncan (Edmonton-Strathcona) introduced Bill C-438, an Act to Establish a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights. This private member’s bill would formally recognize that people in Canada have the right to a healthy environment, and in parallel introduces a legal duty for the federal government to protect this right. The proposed legislation would amend the Canadian Bill of Rights to specify that the right to life, liberty and security of the person includes the right to a healthy environment.

MP Linda Duncan

MP Linda Duncan (Edmonton-Strathcona) tables the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights

The bill would also establish legal mechanisms for people to hold the federal government to account for protecting the environment and enforcing environmental laws. Other provisions include requirements for the federal government to ensure all Canadians have access to environmental information and the opportunity to participate in government decision-making concerning the environment, as well as protection for workers who blow the whistle on illegal pollution and other environmental offences.

To many of us, this all seems like a no-brainer. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that currently no federal law explicitly recognizes the right to a healthy environment. Quebec, Ontario and the three territories address environmental rights in provincial laws, but even in those provinces and territories, there is a gap in areas of federal jurisdiction.

Most other nations (more than 150) recognize the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions, by statute or in legally binding treaties. Canada should too. We need a Canadian environmental bill of rights.

The federal Liberals, NDP and Greens have all formally endorsed the call for an environmental bill of rights at their respective 2018 national conventions, but this does not guarantee passage of the proposed Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights. Private member’s bills face an uphill battle in Parliament and rarely become law. An earlier version of this bill came close, though. First introduced in 2009, it garnered support from MPs of various political stripes before its passage was interrupted by the 2011 federal election. The current proposal likewise deserves the support of all parties.

If a majority of MPs vote in favour of the bill at second reading, it would then be referred to committee for review and the senate would eventually also need to confirm its approval before it becomes law. With just a few weeks left in the Parliamentary session, the bill is unlikely to make it through all the steps in the legislative process before Parliament prorogues for the 2019 election. Nevertheless, the bill prompts an important and timely discussion on Parliament Hill as politicians — and voters — consider priorities for the upcoming election. If it dies on the order paper, Canada’s next environment minister should pick up the gauntlet and move to establish an environmental bill of rights early in his or her mandate.

In the meantime, here are five things we can all do to voice our support for legal recognition of the right to a healthy environment:

1. Find out if your MP has signed the Pledge for Environmental Rights. If not, why not? Click here to invite your MP to sign the pledge (it only takes seconds!).

2. Encourage your MP to support Bill C-438. Look up the phone number here and place a call.

3. Sign the official Parliamentary e-petition calling for an environmental bill of rights, and share it with your friends.

4. Stay in touch! Sign up to receive updates from the Blue Dot movement and help it grow.

5. VOTE in the federal election on October 21, 2019.