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Studying Legislation to Combat Toxins in our Environment

The Environment Committee is studying Bill S-5, complex legislation with the intent of updating the Environmental Protection Act with respect to toxins, and guaranteeing Canadians a “healthy environment”.

Below are some of my questions to the witnesses over the course of several meetings in November and December.

I questioned this witness about countries that have constitutional provisions for a healthy environment. Do you think that Bahrain, Bangladesh and Tanzania have better environmental outcomes than Canada? The witness, Lisa Gue, Manager, National Policy, from the David Suzuki Foundation, acknowledged that the key strategy to protect citizens from toxic substances is enforcing appropriate laws, not some vague guarantee of a right; and Canada already has and enforces such laws. If we need to strengthen those laws in light of new developments, that is a different question.

My question was about the cost of animal testing, and what is preventing researchers from switching to non-animal testing, directed to the witness Dr. Charu Chandrasekera, Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods.

In this clip, I am asking the witness, Joseph F. Castrilli, a lawyer at the Canadian Environmental Law Association, why he thinks this legislation could be challenged constitutionally and the remedy he proposes to ensure the bill is interpreted in the body of the legislation, not in the Courts. His view is that the bill is drafted sloppily, but we’ve also heard from other groups that disagree.

I have concerns about simply stating that Canadians have the “right” to a “healthy environment” without defining with greater precision what that actually means and how that guarantee might impact on other policy decisions; and how Courts might choose to interpret that right. My question was to Dr. Elaine MacDonald, Program Director, Healthy Communities at Ecojustice.

My first questions were directed to W. Scott Thurlow, Senior Advisor, Government Affairs at Dow Canada. I asked if he feels any damage is proposed to Canada’s chemical industry. In particular, does this legislation require a “watchlist” of chemicals and what are the implications of such a list? I also asked about the potential for confidential information being released by the minister, potentially without even notifying the company that owns the confidential information. Are there implications for international companies in doing their research and development in Canada if their confidential information could be arbitrarily released to their competitors?

I also questioned Melissa Daniels, Manager, Toxics Program, at the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, about the best legislative means to protect vulnerable populations and prevent “environmental racism”. (The question was answered instead by Dr. Jane E. McArthur, Director, Toxics Program).

Meeting #40 – 29 November 2022

The Committee continued it’s study of Bill S-5 and I questionned witnesses from Animal Justice Canada Legislative Fund and the Canadian Paint and Coatings Association on living organisms and confidential business information.

During this segment of meeting #40, I asked representative from Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association repealing section 67, which relies on the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry to make sure that foreign imported goods meet Canadian standards; and respresentative from CropLife Canada about regulatory burden.

Meeting #41 – Friday 02 December 2022

At today’s meeting, I questionned the Minister of the Environment when he appeared before the Environment & Sustainable Development committee to discuss Bill S-5 Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act; and asked him to explain to the committee how some of the Senate amendments don’t fulfill what’s required in the bill.

I was also particularly interested in discussing Clause 9 which expands the federal minister’s powers, into what is likely provincial jurisdiction.

Meeting #42 – Tuesday 6 December 2022

I asked Darren Praznik, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Cosmetics Alliance Canada about the impact of this legislation on CUSMA (Canada-US-Mexico free trade agreement) which includes the provision that manufacturers don’t have to go through more than one process or sets of standards to get their products certified. Would these amendments put Canadian manufacturers in an uncompetitive position?

I also questioned Dr. David R. Boyd, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, about the definition of a “healthy environment”.

The language in this legislation is quite loose, which leaves it up to Judges and Courts to define later. Better if politicians are clear about their meaning in the first place. I also asked how a citizen would have recourse should they wish to challenge the absence of a healthy environment. Who do they apply for recourse to, and what would be the process and the remediation? Could the federal government be responsible for billions in punitive or remediation damages?

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