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New changes to Canadian Environmental Protection Act just a start: minister

OTTAWA — The Canadian Environmental Protection Act has been updated for the first time in more than 20 years, and the environment minister says that’s just a start. 

Steven Guilbeault says there will be more to come, now that the law states Canadians have the right to a healthy environment. 

Work on that particular change has been ongoing for years, and is not done yet. 

The government has given itself up to two years to decide precisely what it means, and how it will ensure people’s rights are respected. 

The update, which became law Tuesday, also aims to reduce reliance on animal testing and strengthen the management of chemicals.

Guilbeault acknowledged that there is pressure to move faster to create a definition for the right to a healthy environment, but said it could take less than two years to finalize that part of the regulations.

“There is this idea that, you know, if something exists somewhere else you can just take it and implement it in your own country,” he said. 

“And obviously, all countries are different. They have different laws, regulations, history in terms of implementation. Our relationship with Indigenous Peoples is not unique, but you don’t find that everywhere around the world — the nature of our federation, the role of provinces and territories.”

Independent Sen. Stan Kutcher, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said it was important to him that the law identify the need to acknowledge vulnerable populations. 

Still, it is unclear what consequences there may be for governments and other groups that violate peoples’ rights.

“As I understand the bill, what it does is provides a vehicle to redress and address some of those particular issues,” said Kutcher. 

Kutcher also said the bill represents an opportunity to change science in Canada, particularly when it comes to the impact of our environment on our health. 

“The bill requires us to up our game in that area. We need effective biobanks, we need longitudinal long-term studies through the reproductive ages on the impact of chemicals on human health,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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