The Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR), unique in Canada, gives Ontarians the right to participate in environmentally significant decisions of the provincial government. Its tools provide the public with easier access to information about new laws and other proposals that affect the environment. It allows Ontarians to know about and contribute to government decisions, which helps hold the government accountable for those decisions.
For 25 years, Commissioners and their staff have helped thousands of Ontarians to understand and navigate environmental issues, laws and regulations. The Environmental Commissioner has provided the public with reliable, fact-based, non-partisan reports on energy, environment and climate change that put the environment first. The EBR and the ECO have contributed to positive environmental outcomes, many of which are outlined below.
The EBR established the Environmental Registry to enable public participation in decisions of environmental significance. The ECO created an alert service at alerts.ecoissues.ca to help the public stay informed of new posts. As of January 1, 2019, the Environmental Registry website has been used to gain input on:
- 1,326 policies
- 111 acts
- 872 regulations
- 41,651 instruments
- 1,735 information notices
The Environmental Registry has come a long way over the past 25 years. Starting in 2016, the latest rebuild began, creating the most user-friendly version yet. The ECO urged the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks to continue this EBR success story and complete the remaining redesign and content migration of ero.ontario.ca.
Below are several successful uses of the tools of the EBR that have advanced environmental rights in Ontario, but there have been many more.
- 650 applications for review
- 237 applications for investigation
- 175+ applications for leave to appeal
Applications for investigation
Learn how to use your environmental rights through an application for investigation.
After chemical leaks in 2013, members of the public submitted an application for investigation into air pollution from the Shell plant outside of Sarnia. This application was denied, but the ECO’s examination of the issue in our 2013/14 annual report helped raise awareness. Ultimately, the government acknowledged they needed to do better responding to the area’s long-standing air quality concerns, and Shell was charged.
In 1999, the ECO received an application for investigation regarding the Kam Kotia mine site near Timmins. After the investigation, the government announced $3 million in funding to begin the cleanup of the Kam Kotia site. In 2000, the ECO reported on this investigation, noting that $3 million fell far short of what would be needed for a complete rehabilitation. Later that year, the government accelerated the cleanup of Kam Kotia, increasing the funding to $9 million over two years.
The 30-year-old SWARU incinerator in Hamilton was closed in December 2002, after local residents successfully used the EBR applications process to bring their concerns about the incinerator’s air emissions and ash management problems to the Ministry of the Environment. Although local residents had been raising concerns about air quality in the surrounding community since the 1980s, it was not until a 2000 application for review that the Ministry of the Environment took action by strengthening the facility’s operating conditions to reduce pollution. In 2002, an application for investigation led to tougher new terms and conditions for operating the plant. By the end of the year, Hamilton City Council voted to close the incinerator permanently rather than spend more funds to upgrade the plant.
Applications for review
Learn how to use your environmental rights through an application for review.
Until recently, it was legal to hunt snapping turtles in Ontario. Although it is illegal to kill a “threatened” or “endangered” species under the Endangered Species Act, this protection does not extend to species of special concern. The public successfully used the EBR application for review process and the Environmental Registry to bring attention to this issue and ultimately change the ministry’s approach to managing this at-risk turtle.
Andrew Moeser and Nalin Sahni were University of Toronto law students when they noticed that restrictive rules were preventing some homeowners from using outdoor clotheslines to dry their laundry – a simple energy-saving action. Their 2007 application for review to the Ministry of Energy is an example of proactive action that can be taken under the Environmental Bill of Rights. Upon review, the ministry agreed and now it is illegal to ban the use of outdoor clotheslines.
The application for review process was used as part of the campaign to protect the Oak Ridges Moraine from urban sprawl. Two applications in 2000 called for a review of provincial land-use planning laws and policies to develop a long-term strategy to protect the Moraine. Both applications were denied, which the ECO reported as a “grossly inadequate” response, but they raised the profile of the Moraine. A year later, the government introduced legislation that placed a temporary moratorium on all development and began consultations. The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act was passed in December 2001.
Appplications for leave to appeal
Learn how to exercise your environmental rights through an application for leave to appeal.
In 1996, five applicants received permission to appeal an air emissions approval issued to Petro-Canada’s Mississauga refinery. The parties eventually reached a settlement. The settlement included a commitment by Petro-Canada to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions and fund airshed management research.
Right to sue
In 1997, John Hollick launched a public nuisance class action against Toronto on behalf of residents near the Keele Valley dump. The question of whether this case should be allowed as a class action went to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001. The ECO intervened as a Friend of the Court, providing our interpretation of the EBR’s public nuisance action. The Supreme Court decided that this case could not go forward, but did state that other environmental nuisance cases might be appropriate for class actions.
Since the first special report to the legislature in 1996, the ECO has released more than 65 reports. In 2010, the ECO's reporting mandate was expanded – no longer simply releasing annual and special reports, but reports in three subjects: environmental protection, energy and climate. Since 1996, the ECO has released:
- 24 environmental protection/annual reports
- 13 climate change reports
- 14 energy conservation reports
- 15 special reports
In 2005, the ECO reported on Ontario’s Forest Fire Strategy and recommended more prescribed fire & burning. 2014's Ontario Wildland Fire Management Strategy recognizes the value of fires in forest ecosystems, and provides flexibility in response. More details on the history and ecological importance of forest fire management can be found in the 2015/2016 environmental protection report.
In 2015, the ECO noted that there is an “ecological need for darkness” at night, and the negative impact of artificial light on some species. The ECO recommended that Ontario’s protected areas could champion nighttime darkness preservation. In 2018, Killarney Provincial Park became the first in Ontario to receive a dark sky preserve designation.
In 2012, the ECO hosted a 30-person stakeholder consultation and roundtable on extended producer responsibility at Queen’s Park, helping to advance conversations on a stagnant issue. When the Waste-Free Ontario Act was put forward in 2016, the ECO issued a special report on the next steps needed to achieve a circular economy. As outlined in our special report, Beyond the Blue Box, the ECO hoped to see further progress on this file in the near future.
In 2009, the ECO highlighted the importance of soil organic matter, and the need to monitor and promote soil health. Since then, the ECO has reported on the importance of compost, the benefits of raising soil organic matter, and the value of healthy soils. The ECO also highlighted the issue of soil carbon in greenhouse gas reports and by holding a 2012 Soil-Carbon Roundtable. Since then, the Ministry of Agriculture, Farms and Rural Affairs formed a Soil Health Working Group and released a provincial soil health strategy.
In 2002, the ECO called on the government to protect the Eastern wolf in the townships surrounding Algonquin Provincial Park. Two years later, the government enacted a permanent moratorium on hunting and trapping around the park.
The ECO has been commenting on nutrient management issues since 1998. In a report to the Walkerton Inquiry, the ECO examined the relation between farming and groundwater protection, highlighting the potential for pathogens like E. coli from manure to enter groundwater. The 1999/2000 annual report called for the development of a regulatory framework for large farming operations, including approvals, monitoring and compliance mechanisms. The draft Nutrient Management Act was released for consultation in 2001 and came into force in 2003.
The ECO’s 2013/2014 Annual Report played a key role in raising awareness of the environmental impacts of neonicotinoid pesticides, leading to new restrictions on neonicotinoid use. When posted on the Environmental Registry, the proposal for a pollinator health strategy gained significant attention and gathered over 50,000 comments.
In the 2008/2009 Annual Report, the ECO recommended that the government pass anti-SLAPP legislation. SLAPPs, or “strategic lawsuits against public participation” refer to civil actions (usually defamation lawsuits) that are initiated, without merit, for the purpose of intimidating or silencing critics who speak out on matters of public interest. Within months, the government formed an Anti-SLAPP Advisory Panel. In 2015, the government passed the Protection of Public Participation Act, 2015.
The ECO called for an overhaul of the Provincial Parks Act in our 2003/2004 annual report, noting the 50- year-old law didn’t reflect modern science and planning. The government updated the law in 2006, making ecological integrity the first priority in managing protected areas.
Closing Ontario’s coal-fired electricity plants was the largest contributor to achieving the government’s emissions reductions targets. Ontarians can breathe easier as air pollutants have been reduced, and smog days are mostly a thing of the past. This was achieved through a decade of policy and planning of conservation and bringing cleaner energy onto the grid. The ECO, and the public through the tools provided by the EBR, advocated for cleaner electricity sources and energy conservation before and throughout. Ontario’s next challenge is to reduce fossil fuel use in the transportation sector for a multitude of other benefits.
Recognizing that global biodiversity loss is one of the most critical environmental issues facing the planet, Canada introduced a national strategy in 1995. Ontario was not meeting its obligations, so the ECO called for a provincial strategy in 2002. The government at first denied responsibility for conserving biodiversity, so the ECO again called for a strategy in 2003. Public pressure led to the government accepting responsibility for conserving biodiversity and the Ontario Biodiversity Strategy was released in 2005.
In our 2006/2007 annual report, the ECO pushed for a comprehensive land use strategy for northern Ontario, a dramatic expansion of the protected areas network, and a new land use planning system with the force of law. The government set a legal target of protecting 50% of the Far North to conserve areas of cultural value and ecological systems.