Overview of Canadian Environmental Law

Nov 19th, 2011 | By | Category: Canada

Canadian law firm Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP has issued Blakes Guide to Environmental Law in Canada, an introductory summary of the principal laws and regulations of Canadian environmental law. The guide also provides an overview of environmental law in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia.

Chapters include

  • Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA)
  • Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA)
  • Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992 (TDGA)
  • Hazardous Products Act (HPA) and Canada Consumer Product Safety Act (CCPSA)
  • Pest Control Products Act, 2002 (PCPA)
  • Fisheries Act
  • Canada Shipping Act
  • Marine Liability Act
  • Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA)
  • Oceans Act
  • Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act
  • Species at Risk Act (SARA)
  • Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 (MBCA)
  • Canada National Parks Act
  • Criminal Law
  • Energy Efficiency Act


Enforcement of Canadian Environmental Law

Blakes Guide to Environmental Law in Canada provides the following overview of developments in Canadian environmental law and enforcement.

Environmental legislation and regulation is not only complex, but all too often exceedingly vague, providing environmental regulators with considerable discretion in the enforcement of the law. 

Consequently, courts have been active in developing new standards and principles for enforcing environmental legislation. In addition, civil environmental lawsuits are now commonplace in Canadian courtrooms involving claims over chemical spills, contaminated land, noxious air emissions, noise and major industrial projects. The result has been a proliferation of environmental rules and standards to such an extent that one needs a “road map” to work through the legal maze.

The environment is not named specifically in the Canadian Constitution and consequently neither federal nor provincial governments have exclusive jurisdiction over it. Rather, jurisdiction is based upon other named “heads of power”, such as criminal law, fisheries or natural resources. For many matters falling under the broad label known as the “environment”, both the federal and provincial governments can and do exercise regulatory responsibilities.

This is referred to as “concurrent jurisdiction”, which, in practical terms for business managers, means that both provincial and federal regulations must be complied with. Historically, the provinces have taken the lead with respect to environmental conservation and protection. However, the federal government is increasing its role in this area and some municipalities are also becoming more active, as is evidenced, for example, by their use of bylaws to regulate such matters as the development of contaminated land, the discharge of liquid effluent into municipal sewage systems, and reporting on the emission of chemical substances in the course of business operations.

Environmental statutes create offences for non-compliance that can impose substantial penalties, including million-dollar fines and/or imprisonment. Many provide that maximum fines are doubled for subsequent offences and can be levied for each day an offence continues. Most environmental statutes impose liability on directors, officers, employees or agents of a company where they authorize, permit or acquiesce in the commission of an offence, whether or not the company is prosecuted. Companies and individuals may escape environmental liability on the basis that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the offence from occurring. However, in a growing number of cases, liability may be absolute if a spill or discharge of a contaminant occurs.  


More Information

Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP is an international law firm with more than 550 lawyers in offices in Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, New York, Chicago, London, Bahrain, and Beijing and with associated offices in Al-Khobar and Shanghai. Members of Blake’s environmental group work closely with the firm’s business, financial services, real estate, municipal and planning, and restructuring and insolvency groups to provide a full range of environmental services encompassing contaminated sites, environmental assessments and approvals, waste management and disposal, corporate and commercial due diligence, and litigations, prosecutions, and hearings.

Click here for more information on the firm’s environmental excellence initiatives.


About the Author

Michael Bittner, CPEA, is a senior partner in the Boston, U.S.A. office of Environmental Resources Management and editor of the EHS Journal. He specializes in global EHS solutions including

  • Compliance and management systems auditing
  • EHS management systems implementation and design
  • Sustainability solutions
  • Mergers and acquisitions support

Mr. Bittner is a member of the Board of Directors for the Auditing Roundtable.

Photograph:  Spiral Walkway, Ottawa Station 5 by Alistair Williamson, Ottawa, Canada.


Return to the EHS Journal Home Page 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

One Comment to “Overview of Canadian Environmental Law”

  1. Alexander Class says:

    Hi Michael I hope you are doing well. Michael in your experience, do you know if in Canada they use the MSDS as a legal document for environmental purposes or the Transportation of Dangerous goods, like in the USA?

    Thank you

    Alexander Class, CPEA

Leave a Comment