We cannot think of doctors and other health professionals as storytellers. At Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), we’re helping write a happy ending to the extended story of updating the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). We ask our fellow physicians and healthcare professionals to work with us to explain why strong environmental protections are important for health. The history of CEPA is a history of delay, and it is too late for its happy ending.
CEPA was originally adopted in 1988. It regulates critical environmental issues directly related to health. It was the last updated in 1999, which, for reference, was a year in which nearly three million people died of HIV-AIDS and it became possible for the first time to send text messages between mobile phone networks. Despite CEPA’s five-year review schedule, the review process was not strictly observed.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development 2017 review of CEPA led to a list of 87 recommendations to strengthen the law. Unfortunately, these recommendations and others still do not have the force of law.
A lot organizations have spent years work actively and campaign to improve Canada’s basic environmental legislation. In 2018, more than 500 scientists sent a letter to the Prime Minister, arguing that “Canada’s general law governing pollution and toxic products is outdated; it is inadequate to deal with current sources of pollution and toxic chemicals ”. the current science on the health impacts of pollution and toxic substances was the basis of efforts to align the law with environmental health evidence.
Over the years, the advocacy of health, environment and policy experts has remained constant, ask the government for legislative action on toxics and environmental justice without further ado. Sadly, the political process has continued to be frustratingly slow at times. While the CEPA conspiracy seemed to focus primarily on delay, recent action seemed to lead to the climax of the story.
A law amending CEPA was tabled on April 13. The first reading of Bill C-28, the Stronger Environmental Protection, Healthier Canada Act, was hailed as an essential first step. Health and environment groups welcomed the presentation of Bill C-28. After a break to celebrate, health and policy experts were assessing whether the bill offered the best possible protection.
In the meantime, the expectation that CEPA would be put on the agenda of the House for second reading and debate seemed bleak. A joint letter by civil society organizations concerned with the environment and health asked the House leader to put Bill C-28 on the agenda for debate as soon as possible and to work with the parliamentary leaders of the other parties to allow a vote at second reading.
Yet, without a commitment to Bill C-28 on the agenda, advocates sent a follow-up letter with a list of initial recommendations to strengthen CEPA. The proposed recommendations include the removal of the qualification of the right to a healthy environment in relation to economic factors, the assessment of actual exposures to toxic substances with a clear timetable, the legal definition of air quality standards and the removal of air quality standards. obstacles to the application of harmful substances in the environment.
Despite the optimism that Bill C-28 could go ahead, the political process is putting it on hold. While this sounds like the same old CEPA story, facing yet another delay, we cannot let this setback rule the end. There are still many steps to be taken before Bill C-28 becomes law. The government will have the opportunity to continue reviewing the bill in the fall or, if elected, will have to reintroduce new legislation to reform CEPA.
Women, children, racialized and Indigenous populations and workers are made more vulnerable by their living and working conditions and their exposure. Cancer incidence continues to increase globally, with an expected increase of 47% from 2020 by 2040, and chemical exposures and air pollution contribute. Climate change and rising temperatures in Canada are associated with an increase impacts on children’s health, including heat and cold mortality, respiratory disease, cancer, waterborne infections, ticks and rodents, and weakened immune systems. Hundreds of thousands of deaths each year are attributed to PM2.5 forest fires.
Strong legal protections can begin to respond to the realities of health today and prevent health problems and illnesses in the future. Bill C-28 to reform CEPA is a good step forward in advancing the right to a healthy environment; amendments will further strengthen it. Health care professionals have a vital role to play in shaping the happy ending of CEPA history, using their scientific knowledge and experience.
Healthcare professionals have a vital role to play in crafting a happy ending for Canada’s premier environmental law, write @ JANEMCARTHUR11 and Larry Barzelai of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. #EnvironmentalJustice #cdnpoli
Dr. Larry Barzelai is a physician and member of the CAPE-ACME Board of Directors, and Jane McArthur, Ph.D., is the Toxic Substances Campaign Director for CAPE-ACME.