Environmental law could change significantly next week. On Friday November 22, the General Government Committee came to Peterborough to listen to registered speakers regarding an omnibus bill (excessively large) known as Bill 132: “Better for People, Smarter for Business Act,” 2019. This Bill makes it easier for companies to pollute the environment, as it changes the Environmental Protection Act significantly with a one-word change.
Arthur interviewed Richard Lindgren, who teaches environmental law at Trent University, and is an environmental lawyer in the Canadian Environmental Law Association. Lindgren spoke in front of the committee in Peterborough on Friday. During Friday’s lecture, it was brought up that Section 14 of the Environmental Protection Act would be changed by one very important word: from “if the discharge causes or may cause an adverse effect” to “if the discharge causes or is likely to cause an adverse effect.” Lindgren explained that changing “may” to “likely” will be a harder standard to prove in a court case. This means that companies will be able to pollute more easily. Lindgren published as article in The Lawyer’s Daily, entitled “Ontario fast tracks changes to environmental laws.” One of the points found in the article is that this change is not about improving competitiveness or cutting red tape, but about reducing environmental protections.
Lindgren highlighted two schedules, 9 and 16, which would change the Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks, and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. There was a concern that per-day convictions were repealed, and Administrative penalties (AMP) were capped too low. While Lindgren did like that AMPs would be applied to other laws such as the Nutrient Management Act, he said it might not be applied right away. In the interview, it was also revealed that the evidentiary burden of reverse onus would be changed, meaning that it will be easier to appeal. With a 30-day timeline for consultation, a few groups were not able to be selected to make comments.
In addition to this, Matawa First Nations chiefs, representing nine First Nations communities, are concerned about changes to the Mining Act, as they impact Aboriginal rights protected under section 35(1) of the Canada Constitution Act, 1982. Environmental Defense is also concerned about changes to the Water Resources Act. An example they gave was that the maximum fine is currently $100,000 per day, but that could change to $200,000 per conviction.
You can view Bill 132, “Better for People, Smarter for Business Act,” 2019 on the Environmental Registry, and make a comment before November 27, 2019.