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Legal experts warn federal government against weakening new environmental laws

Monday, November 25, 2019

Amending legislation passed in Bill C-69 or C-48 would diminish public trust, say enviro lawyers

OTTAWA – Lawyers at West Coast Environmental Law Association are calling on the federal government to resist pressure to weaken environmental legislation passed earlier this year, following a series of mixed messages from federal officials about their willingness to amend the laws or their supporting regulations and policies.

Recent media reports have indicated that the government is open to “suggestions for improvements” to the implementation of Bill C-69, which introduced new legislation to strengthen impact assessment and energy regulation in Canada.

“It is absolutely essential for Canada to hold strong on Bill C-69,” said Anna Johnston, Staff Lawyer. “The government promised voters greater climate action, and eroding this important law to appease oil and gas industry interests would be a huge step in the wrong direction. We need to be moving forward on climate, not backward.”

Federal ministers have faced continued pressure from oil and gas industry proponents and provincial politicians to weaken, amend or repeal new environmental legislation – particularly Bill C-69 and Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act.

Both bills passed in June 2019, following heated debate in the Senate that led to numerous amendments proposed by industry. Both laws also fulfilled important election commitments made by the Liberal government, and environmental lawyers warn that any action to weaken them would result in a broken promise.

“These laws are already less ambitious than we’d hoped, but they contain critical legal measures to protect the health of the environment, communities, and the coast. The federal government has made good progress with the passing of this legislation, and we simply can’t afford to go backwards – especially while we’re facing a climate emergency,” Johnston said.

Environmental groups are urging the government to ensure effective implementation of the Impact Assessment Act and other key environmental laws, and to strengthen the regulations that dictate how the laws are applied and enforced. In particular, several organizations have spoken out about weak regulations that exempt high-carbon projects from environmental reviews.

”If anything, now is the time for the federal government to ramp up its environmental and climate ambition by making more projects subject to impact assessment, not fewer,” said Johnston. “Bill C-69 is about giving decision-makers all the information they need to make informed decisions in the public interest, and enhancing public trust in those decisions. We should be subjecting all projects to a high level of scrutiny, not giving a free pass to polluters.”

Bill C-48 was the result of many decades of effort by Indigenous nations, northern communities and citizens throughout BC and Canada to protect a remote and ecologically unique place on the north Pacific coast from risks posed by crude oil tankers.

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For more information, please contact:

Anna Johnston | Staff Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law Association
604-340-2304, ajohnston@wcel.org