After years of advocating for stronger toxics laws, we are celebrating the passage of Bill S-5 – the Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act in the House of the Commons.  The bill is the first major update to Canada’s cornerstone environmental law, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), since 1999, and it includes some new tools to better protect us and the environment from harmful substances.

CEPA covers all things environmental – from air and water quality to toxics in consumer products, plastic pollution, and even climate action. However, science and our understanding of pollution have evolved a lot since 1999, and we need Canada’s main toxics law to keep pace. That’s one of the reasons why the passage of Bill S-5 is such a significant milestone in our campaign to protect people and the environment from toxic chemicals and pollution.

Here are four things you need to know about the changes Bill S-5 makes to CEPA

  1. The ‘right to a healthy environment’ will be recognized for the first time under federal law, including a new duty for the government to uphold the principles of environmental justice, intergenerational equity, and non-regression. That means Canada will need to consider human rights in their chemicals management decisions and ensure protections for those who are most vulnerable. It also means critical and hard-fought protections can’t be rolled back.
  2. Substances that are carcinogenic (cancer-causing), toxic to reproduction (affect one’s ability to become or stay pregnant, or impact fetal development or growth), or mutagenic (cause mutations in our DNA) will be prioritized for ban or restriction. 
  3. Chemicals with hazardous properties that haven’t been assessed yet or are not in widespread use will be added to a ‘watchlist’. The watchlist will provide an early warning signal to companies about which chemicals will likely be restricted by the federal government in the future. This will discourage companies from replacing one toxic chemical with another.
  4. The bill includes new timelines for action and requirements for transparency. This means the government will have to report publicly on the products and chemicals they’ve assessed, and will also have to explain any delays in risk management. Previously, the government took years to impose a risk management plan. With the updates in Bill S-5, risk management plans will now be due on a clear timeline after a chemical is determined to be harmful. 

The passing of Bill S-5 in the House is progress worth celebrating, but there is still more work that needs to be done. The good news is the government has committed to introducing a second CEPA modernization bill, which gives us reason to be hopeful for continued progress. 

We will continue advocating for future improvements to our toxics law

…including requirements for labelling hazardous substances in consumer products, actions to address air quality concerns, and strengthened control over genetically engineered animals. These changes would contribute to a comprehensive and robust CEPA that truly prioritizes the health and safety of both current and future generations.

But for now, we’ll take a moment to celebrate this milestone, and to thank everyone who has written, called, spoken up, and supported our work to kick out toxic chemicals. Together, we can build a cleaner, safer, and toxic-free future for everyone living in Canada.