Defining Environmental Justice in Canada

What is COVID? COVID stands for Comprehensive Environmental Justice Campaign, launched in 2014 to push for a place on Ontario’s environmental protection act for families who want to challenge toxic waste management. “CEJ” -…

Defining Environmental Justice in Canada

What is COVID?

COVID stands for Comprehensive Environmental Justice Campaign, launched in 2014 to push for a place on Ontario’s environmental protection act for families who want to challenge toxic waste management.

“CEJ” – meaning “early intervention” – has been a project of the Toronto-based Environmental Justice Alliance for Northern Ontario (EDAON). The activist network, made up of 60 groups representing more than 18,000 members, now has 160 Community Legal Assistance Court (CLAC) volunteers in its network, as well as a growing number of other community lawyers.

From Cineplex Corp’s grudge against a Muslim-Canadian indie film to a multi-million-dollar environmental case against a family with mental health issues, Ontario families have taken aim at tycoons and officials in recent years.

Cases in schools

Cases have involved local colleges, the city of Toronto, school boards and even elementary schools. But the promise of paid legal aid services has led some anti-pollution cases to settle out of court.

The language in “environmental protection” law as written in Canada is clear, says the CEAON. The right of those with interest in the air, land or water to bring a case to court, and the right of those who would be negatively affected by some pollution to be heard about whether it will harm them is specifically granted in this law.

“We’re trying to change the conversation when it comes to pollution. We’re trying to change the conversation when it comes to Ontario environmental laws and enforcement laws so that people can come forward and put their interests and health and safety first,” says Kristy Alarie, CEAON’s executive director.

“From a volunteer’s perspective, it’s very exciting. I mean, when you talk about policing those pollution laws, CEAON always tells us that the courts and the Provincial Offences Act are silent in that regard, or if they are, they’re totally silent,” she says.

In addition to getting legal aid, volunteers also offer technical advice and support for every case that comes forward.

Search your child’s school

To help publicize the work going on, CEAON made a website with historical and current data about each CIEJ case in Ontario, broken down by location and school. The “Explore the Learning” tool lets you track the status of cases for your child’s school.

“We’ve launched it to help parents and citizens in Ontario understand the state of play in any of their public schools,” says Alarie.

“There are lots of wonderful people working on this because we need that intervention because we live in a society where environmental problems are multiple and often interconnected.”

The site also has links to EJAON’s network of lawyers who can take clients on the legal path to obtaining funding for remediation or prosecution. If you need help, we can recommend lawyers or offer basic information.

“Unfortunately, environmental law is only addressed when contamination levels are very high or very small. The problem is that, for some children, exposure to chemicals may only happen on one occasion, and then it is months, years or even a lifetime before they get ill or have a health issue. You have to build up the knowledge about the harm to our children and how that pollution persists and at what time,” says EJAON’s Vashti Baillie.

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