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WCS Canada Scientists Suggest Environmental Assessment Changes to Address Concerns About Process and Outcomes

In June, the Government of Canada announced the launch of a comprehensive review of federal environmental assessment processes associated with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012). With our extensive experience working in regions of northern Canada where natural resource development is being planned in remote and ecologically intact areas, we at WCS Canada see significant gaps inherent in environmental assessment law, policy, and practice when it comes to addressing modern-day environmental threats and impacts, particularly those that are cumulative in nature.

A four-person Expert Panel that was appointed by Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna to lead this review wrapped up its cross-Canada public engagement tour on December 15.  WCS Canada staff presented to this panel during its sessions in Thunder Bay and Winnipeg. We followed up with two formal submissions to the panel in December: 1) Planning Environmental Impact Assessment: A Case Study from Ontario’s Far North by Dr. Cheryl Chetkiewicz, and 2) The Effective Use of Science in Environmental Assessment by Dr. Justina Ray.

Our submissions express particular concerns about the process and outcomes of environmental assessment in the context of welcoming new development like major mines and associated infrastructure, into remote, intact regions in the north where the majority of the population are Indigenous with Aboriginal and/or Treaty rights under the Canadian Constitution. We contend that ensuring that new development has lasting benefits that outweigh adverse social, economic, and environmental impacts cannot be delivered adequately through project‐level EA under CEAA 2012.

We are also placing specific focus on the role of scientific information and expertise in environmental assessment (EA), in an effort to address the provision in the EA Expert Review Panel’s terms of reference that it “provide recommendations on how to ensure environmental decisions are based on science, fact and evidence”.

The coming months, before and after the panel delivers its report on March 31, will be essential for continued focus on the important task of revising these key laws to deliver on promises of true sustainability for Canada’s next generations.

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