Issues In Environmental Laws

Introduction

It is free and invisible, yet it is everywhere. Air is essential for survival of life. However, we often take this necessity for granted, particularly here in Canada. Air pollution is not something that started only recently. It has been a part of society ever since humans first learned to build fires. The growth in population and the advancements of technology caused air pollution to become a huge issue. For the first time in history, human civilization was causing environmental changes at a global level. Humans realized this impact they had on the environment as early as the early 20th century. However, the Canadian government and businesses did not care about environmental protection until later on in the 1960s when it became inevitable due to the immense amount of pressure the government received from society. The quality of air in Canada is constantly decreasing at a rapid rate and air pollution is only increasing. The Canadian environmental law is not doing a good enough job as the Conservatives are not focusing on this important issue. Because of the lack of attention to the environment, many negative cases have been occurring. Therefore, the current environmental law is not strict enough and the Canadian government must take more action to save the environment for the present and for the future.

History

One way of proving that the current government is not doing enough to protect Canada's precious air is by looking at the statistics. Air quality is worsening. A report, released by Environment Canada and Health Canada, measures ground-level ozone to assess the air quality in Canada and states that levels of one of the most common and harmful air pollutants rose by 16 per cent between 1990 and 2003, with the highest levels and fastest growth occurring in southern Ontario. Ontario, along with Quebec, are graded “F”, the worst possible grade for air quality ("CBC News"). There are many consequences to poor quality air. Some short term effects could be irritation to the eyes, to the nose and throat, headaches, nausea, and more. Long term effects range from lung cancer to heart disease to damage to the brain and much more. At least 100,000 tonnes of toxic pollutants were directly released into Canada's environment in 2003 by industries and households, according to a report on CBC ("CBC News"). Greenhouse gas emissions rose 24 per cent from 1990 to 2003 ("CBC News"). Canada is getting more efficient with emissions per unit of economic activity falling 13 per cent from 1990 to 2003, however the economy grew so promptly that the total amount of emissions increased ("CBC News"). This year, an estimated 21,000 Canadians will die from heart and lung illnesses brought on by breathing polluted air. Approximately 700,000 Canadians will die prematurely over the next two decades because of illnesses caused by poor air quality, according to the Canadian Medical Association ("CBC News"). In conclusion, it's clear that as time progresses, the quality of the air is getting worse and worse under the leadership of the current government. Therefore, the authorities must take more action to save the environment for the present and for the future.

Legislation

An accurate way to see if the government is doing well enough about the environment is by looking at the legislations. Environmental laws in Canada are weak. Each act that has been passed has always been criticized. One of such acts is the Environmental Protection Act (EPA). The EPA only focuses on remedies for the environmental problems rather than on environmental sustainability ("Health Canada"). All it does is punish people for damages that have already been done. An effective Act should prevent the damage from occurring in the first place. Also, the EPA grants the Ministry of Environment (MoE) all the power and gives them discretion on how or whether to take action ("Health Canada"). An ordinary citizen cannot take action under the EPA and must rely on the government to act. To make matters worse, there is no government accountability for not acting. Since the government will not get into trouble by not addressing the issues, this leads to times where the government chooses not to address certain issues for various reasons such as waste of time or money. Thus, the Environmental Protection Act is not strong and is lacking many parts that a good act would possess.

Another act is the more recent Clean Air Act in 2006. This legislation has been criticized by almost everyone except the Conservatives who proposed it. Firstly, the goal of this act is to reduce gas emissions by 45-65% of 2003 by 2050 (Bains). Canada signed the Kyoto Protocol and confirmed it in December 2002, committing itself to a 6% decrease of 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 2008-2012. Under the Kyoto Protocol, a reduction of more than 33% (from 1990 levels) would be required by 2012 (See Appendix A). At this time, Kyoto targets appear to be unattainable (need more than 33% decrease in six years). On the other hand, Clean Air Act targets for 2050 appear to be too small in comparison, as they are considerably less of a decrease than 45-65% when considered in terms of 1990 levels rather than 2003 levels (Bains). This act is completely ignoring the Kyoto protocol. Secondly, it's criticized by the public that it's too little too late. Firstly, the act does little to prevent climate change and more must be done ("CTV News"). Secondly, many critics believe that even if the goal of CAA is not too difficult to reach, yet this act does not do enough to even reach this objective. Therefore, these two acts are very flawed and show how weak the environmental law in Canada is.

Political Parties

The current government is the problem for the worsening of the environment. The Conservatives have always been known for opposing any and all measures to protect the environment. Since they were elected in 2006, the Conservatives have eliminated 20 different federal programs meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Department of Culture). This climate change plan in fact allows Canada's greenhouse gas emissions to continue to rise (Department of Culture). The Conservatives have refused to publicize important Health Canada reports on the impacts of climate change. These reports are produced by our own government, with our own tax dollars. Canadian citizens' rights are violated and the actions taken by the Conservatives are immoral. Canadians deserve to know how Canada is doing concerning the air. Since the Conservatives are choosing to hide information from the public, it's likely that the news is shocking in a negative manner.

Unfortunately for Canada, the opposition does not have a great history in environments either. They are known for talking the talk but not walking the walk. They never kept promises in the past and it's doubtful that they will in the future if they are elected next. For 13 years when they were in the parliament, the Liberals promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but did nothing while Canada's greenhouse gas emissions only increased by 27% (Conservative). The Green Party seems best for the environment because of their focus on protecting Canada's nature. However, the Green Party does not support a sustainable development because they tend not to care about the economy. The environment is not the only concern for Canada. The economy is important as well, hence a sustainable economy is needed. It's clear that none of the parties are efficient for a sustainable development in Canada, so at least one Party must step up their game and take more action.

Public V. Private

There were no real environmental laws until the 1960's. People did not know about the damage they were causing to the planet until the early 20th century. Citizens had the rights to sue polluters who caused damage. In 1948, the Ontario government passed a law, the KVP Act to limit these rights of citizens to sue polluters because they might affect a company's productivity and profits. Governments saw that economic growth was more important than environmental protection. Evidence of environmental damage was evident by the 1960s. Air pollution became more and more serious. Through collective actions acted by society, new laws were introduced. These new laws were categorized as “Environmental Laws” under the public law. Although it seems great that the government has intervened with the environment, it is not as great as one would like to believe. Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) requires the Ontario government to assess certain projects that could harm the environment. This intervention from the public is very weak ("SSRN"). Firstly, it only covers major projects, so it does not apply to many small projects which have the potential for considerable environmental impacts ("SSRN"). It does not apply to them because the EAA is expensive and complex. It's also time-consuming, which means that environmental damage will continue until the assessment is all done, which could be a little too late ("SSRN"). Therefore, the Environmental Assessment Act is not as significant compared to what it could be if the act was better.

There is also the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR). It was a present from the government to allow members of the public in their efforts to take responsibility for the protection of the environment for themselves. The problem with this bill was that it was an omnibus act ("Government of Canada"). Bill 26 of the EBR passed on what were previously provincial government decision-making roles to municipalities, which are not subject to the legislation ("Government of Canada"). This put environmental decisions beyond the reach of public intervention, which was the whole point of this bill. Therefore, although the public attempted to help the environment by the demands of the private, they have done a poor job so far.

Cases

There are many cases that demonstrate the problems of Canadian environmental law. One case is Great Lakes United v. Canada. This case concluded that from this point on the mining sector must report releases to the National Pollutant Release Inventory ("News Brief"). This happened in 2009. The tragedy in this is that the mining sector should have been reporting their releases from the very beginning. The Minister of the Environment has a duty to inform Canadians about the state of the environment. What was the Ministry of the Environment been doing all this time before this court ruling? This means that in the past, the mining sector could have done anything they wanted and MoE and the public would not have known. MoE has not been doing their duty to its Canadian citizens until now. This is unacceptable.

Another case is City of Nanaimo, British Columbia v. Rascal Trucking Ltd. The city granted a permit to Rascal Trucking Ltd. to deposit 15,000 cubic yards of soil on its site to conduct soil processing operations (See Appendix B).  Nearby residents complained about the dust and noise emissions. As a result, a city inspector recommended that the soil be removed. This mountain of soil reduces air quality and creates risk to children that are curious or want to play near that area (McDannold). The city council passed resolutions declaring the pile of soil a nuisance pursuant to s. 936 of the Municipal Act and ordered the company to remove it.  The company failed to obey, so the city brought a petition for a declaration that it was entitled to access the property and get rid of the pile of soil. The petition was granted resulting in the company bringing a second petition requesting that the resolutions be nullified (McDannold).  The Court of Appeal allowed the company's appeal and quashed both resolutions and both court orders. It was only until on March 2, 2000, the Supreme Court of Canada declared a large mountain of topsoil to be a nuisance which had to be removed immediately (McDannold). For over four years, this soil existed in the neighbourhood that had to suffer all those years. The decision of the Supreme Court helped, but it was a little late and the process took too long. For these reasons, the Canadian government is not taking enough action to save the environment. The process should be quicker.

Philosopher/Legal Theorist

Many famous philosophers and legal theorists would disagree in the methods the Canadian government takes to save the environment. One of these philosophers is Jeremy Bentham, the father of utilitarianism ("Utilitarianism"). His famous saying is “The greatest good for the greatest number of people” ("Utilitarianism"). The environment right now is harming everyone and wildlife. Also, since statistics show it's only worsening, the future is also in danger as well. This is not demonstrating the greatest good for the greatest number of people because of the many people that are going to die or suffer due to the poor quality of air. Therefore, the Canadian government's current tactics would not be approved of by Jeremy Bentham.

In addition, David Suzuki, the most famous environmental activist in Canada, is not too pleased with Canada's progress in environmental laws. He recognizes air pollution as a significant environmental health problem (Suzuki). In Canada alone, it is responsible for initiating thousands of deaths, millions of cases of illnesses, billions of dollars in health care expenses, and tens of billions of dollars in lost productivity every year (Suzuki). The David Suzuki Foundation is working hard to fix this problem to ensure Canada with the best quality air possible (Suzuki). In the report, The Air We Breathe, the David Suzuki Foundation discovered that Canada offers weaker protection for human health from air pollution than the U.S., Australia, or the European Union (Suzuki). Notably, Canada is the only nation to rely on voluntary national guidelines, which provide a far weaker approach to controlling air pollution than the enforceable standards in place elsewhere (Suzuki). Hence there must be more government intervention in Canada for better control of the pollution in the air. In conclusion, Jeremy Bentham would say the Canadian environmental law is not enough and David Suzuki says Canadian environmental laws are very weak.

Conclusion

In conclusion, these are the reasons to why the Canadian government needs to work on environmental law, especially in the field of air pollution as it is not strict enough and does not save both the present and the future. They must decrease the amount of air pollution and increase the air quality. The Conservatives can achieve this by making better legislations or amend existing ones such as the Environmental Protection Act or the Clean Air Act. Hopefully by doing this, cases similar to the Great Lakes United v. Canada and City of Nanaimo, British Columbia v. Rascal Trucking Ltd will not happen again in the future. Air is essential for not only survival of humanity but for survival of all wildlife on Earth as well. Hence, the Canadian government must do better for existence to continue on this fragile planet.

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