After nearly two decades since Canada’s main toxics law was enacted, the federal government promised to give it a major makeover. The government’s commitment was in response to recommendations made by a committee of MPs that confirmed longstanding concerns of scientists and environmental groups regarding the need for stronger protections from toxics and pollution.

This law, known as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), is arguably Canada’s most important environmental law and is key to the health of Canadians. One of CEPA’s primary responsibilities is to regulate harmful chemicals released by industry and used in consumer products such as cosmetics.

man looking at product label

Delayed action, but a promising path forward

Over the past couple of years, tens of thousands of Canadians have called on the federal government for stronger protections from toxics. On June 29th, the government responded by announcing its commitment to introduce reforms to CEPA “as soon as possible in a future parliament” – in other words, as early as 2020.

The federal government agreed “with the intent” of many of the committee’s recommended reforms to CEPA and committed to considering a number of reforms that Environmental Defence, scientists and partner organizations considered to be high priority. These include:

  • mandatory protections of vulnerable populations (such as pregnant women and children),
  • safer substitution of harmful chemicals,
  • tightening timelines of assessment and regulation of toxics,
  • assessing cumulative impacts of different chemicals on our health and environment, and
  • improving public participation and communication (click here to read more about what these reforms would mean).

In addition to these priorities, the federal government should continue to consider a stricter regulatory process for chemicals of high concern such as BPA and phthalates. These chemicals should not be allowed to be used in products unless industry can prove that the proposed use will not lead to human exposure or release to the environment.

Furthermore, the government recognized that Canadians want to see their right to a healthy environment enshrined in law and committed to further consult Canadians on potential legislative changes in the next two tears. Canada is currently behind 150 countries that legally recognize people’s right to a healthy environment.

Stronger Product Labelling on the Horizon?

The government also said it will begin looking into solutions that do not require legislative reforms such as product labelling. This means that products such as cleaning products and  furniture would have to clearly label when a harmful chemical is present or released. Labelling policies in the U.S. and Europe have shown to be very effective in guiding consumer choices and promoting safer alternative to harmful chemicals.

Next steps

The federal government promised to continue consulting Canadians, civil society and industry on legislative reforms as it prepares a bill to amend CEPA. Environmental Defence will continue to engage in these consultations and actively work with government and other stakeholders to ensure key reforms are introduced as soon as possible.

We’ve come very close to strengthening toxic chemical and pollution regulations in Canada. Together we can work to ensure that the government meets its commitments and gives Canadians the healthy environment that they deserve.

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