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What are your environmental rights?

Region: Ontario Answer # 380

Both Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights and The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999), governing all Canadians, give Ontario residents a number of similar important rights. Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights lists the following specific seven:

1. Right to notice of environmentally significant proposals

The formal right to notice of environmentally significant proposals is realized through the Environmental Registry. The Environmental Registry is a database where all Ontarians can go to find out about environmentally significant proposals “before” they are decided. The Registry also provides details on each proposal and how to comment on it within the 30-day comment period.

2. Right to comment on environmentally significant proposals

Under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, people have the right to a minimum standard of 30 days public consultation on most environmentally significant proposals that are put forth by any of the 14 Ontario government ministries covered by the Environmental Bill of Rights.

3. Right to request an appeal of particular decisions on instruments

Instruments are specific licences to do something environmentally significant usually sought by a private sector company referred to as a “proponent.” Ontarians now have the entirely new right to appeal decisions made on such “instruments.”

For example, if a company wants to take more than 50,000 litres of water from a water source, it must gain permission from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks by being issued an instrument called a “permit to take water.” If a resident believes that granting the approval and issuing the permit is unreasonable and will result in harm to the environment, they may apply for leave to appeal the decision. If leave to appeal is granted, a full appeal hearing on the issue is held by the relevant board or agency.

For example, an appeal on a permit to take water would be heard by the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT). If you are interested in applying for leave to appeal a decision, you must provide notice to the relevant appeal body within 15 days of the notice of decision being given on the Environmental Registry.

4. Right to request a review of existing government policies

Under the Environmental Bill of Rights, any two Ontarians may request a review of existing policies, Acts, regulations or instruments if they think the environment is not being protected. Ontario residents also have the right to suggest new policies to be put in place to protect the environment.

5. Right to request an Investigation

Under the Environmental Bill of Rights, any two Ontarians may request an investigation of contraventions of environmental law. Such a request is best accompanied by as much evidence as possible, including descriptions of the offence, photographs, witness statements, and audio or videotapes.

6. Right to sue under the Environmental Bill of Rights

Using the Environmental Bill of Rights, Ontario residents have the right to sue someone under two circumstances.

First, individuals now have an expanded right to sue without the Attorney General’s permission, if someone is causing a public nuisance that is causing harm to the environment.

Second, individuals have the right to sue if they believe someone is breaking, or is about to break an environmentally significant law and is harming a public resource. Individuals can exercise this right to sue even if they do not own the affected property or have suffered no direct economic loss or personal injury.

This second right to sue usually depends on first submitting a request for investigation and receiving an “untimely or unreasonable response” to the request.

When an individual sues someone under the Environmental Bill of Rights, public notice of the lawsuit and its results will be provided on the Environmental Registry.

7. Right to protection from employer reprisal

Often referred to as “Whistleblower Protection”, the Environmental Bill of Rights protects Ontario residents from retaliation by employers for reporting contraventions of environmental laws or for using any other of their environmental rights. If an employer dismisses, penalizes, or otherwise harasses an employee for these reasons, the employee can seek protection by contacting a lawyer and the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The Labour Relations Board has the authority to order that the employee be compensated or reinstated.

For more information, including on your right to protection from employer reprisal, view the Environmental Bill of Rights or visit the Environmental Registry of Ontario website.

For legal help, contact an environmental law lawyer.


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