News Archives

Eyes on LAO

New threats make CELA even more valuable to disadvantaged

Posted on: Friday, November 14/08

This is the first in a series of articles about the valuable work being done by the Specialty Clinics funded by Legal Aid Ontario under the Legal Aid Services Act's mandate to provide access to high quality legal services to low income individuals and disadvantaged communities.

Environmental issues are rarely simple. Information is often incomplete and controversial, and those who benefit from activities that create environmental risks or harm are usually better funded than those who suffer the consequences or try to protect the environment.

With new reports indicating low-income individuals, young children and the elderly face the greatest health risks from the effects of climate change - such as tainted drinking water caused by floods -- the work of the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) has never been more vital.

Well known in recent times for representing residents during the inquiry into the fatal contamination of the town of Walkerton's water supply, CELA has been working for more than 35 years to protect the public and the environment through legal services and advocating law reforms. One of their newest projects is a forthcoming study on the connection between pollution and poverty.

The organization's province-wide mandate includes serving low-income, vulnerable, and First Nations communities, in addition to providing advice, legal services or representation in regards to environmental and administrative law tribunals, courts and municipal planning committees and councils.

Examples include the following:


Pollution Watch and the Poverty and Pollution Study
A forthcoming study of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence region outlines areas, by income level, most impacted by the largest pollution emitters in Canada. Further studies also examine regions in the GTA.

Community right-to-know
In collaboration with health, labour, grassroots and other communities, CELA continues to campaign for a municipal community right-to-know bylaw dealing with toxic emission in Toronto. It would be the first of its kind in Canada.

Low Income Energy Network (LIEN)
Since its inception in 2004, CELA, a founder of LIEN, has been a contributing member to the network's steering committee. In its fight against energy poverty and its impacts in Ontario, LIEN encourages communities - legal aid clinics, poverty activists, grass-roots environmental organizations and shelter advocates - to assist by developing a priority action agenda.

Canadian Network on Environment, Health, and Social Equity
CELA, an early member of the network to further understanding and practice of environmental equity, is gaining momentum country-wide as an interdisciplinary organization.


Toxics Use Reduction Act and Model Bill
As the government considers introducing a bill to reduce the use of toxins as early as this fall, CELA hopes its model bill will prove consequential. All the cancer prevention stakeholders' efforts, including CELA, proved influential in all parties committing to toxic use reduction in the last election.

Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and the Environment
CELA's over decade long concern of the environmental repercussions on children's health has made some headway provincially and federally. Their focus has fuelled several legislative and policy initiatives to better reflect the difference in impact of environmental substances between children and adults.

Over ten years of legal strategies have resulted in the substantial reduction of unnecessary pesticide exposure, progressing CELA's goal for a safer environment. In June 2008, the Pesticides Act was amended, banning the sale or use of various lawn and garden biocides.

CELA was also instrumental in other initiatives for reforming federal pesticides legislation and the co-authorship of a seminal report dealing with pesticides and children's environmental health.

Toxic Chemicals
The federal Hazardous Products Act was recently amended to improve recall powers and the control of hazardous consumer products in Canada. CELA maintains its support in ameliorating preventative and up-stream controls needed to reform regulations on the use of toxins in consumer products.

Under the Chemicals Management Plan, CELA has continued working on the high hazard chemicals and campaigning for action on the medium hazard chemicals.

Brownfields & Mining Act
Several initiatives are underway to implement brownfields reforms, which will increase the number of properties returned to safe and practical land uses. CELA, a strong supporter of the re-use of brownfield lands, is also concerned with ensuring the development is safe for future residents and neighbouring properties. As the effect on various communities grows more urgent, the Mining Act reform is becoming a priority.


Source Water Protection and Drinking Water
Since the events of Walkerton, CELA is advancing its focus on protecting Ontario drinking water at the source in a Water Guardian Coalition. In conjunction with other groups, CELA is also working on overall provincial and federal water policy.

Great Lakes
Various CELA staff are involved in many aspects of Great Lakes protection, including toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes, emerging threats, Great Lakes water quality and quantity, and integration with drinking water protection programs.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
For more information about CELA visit their website at

More info:

For more information about CELA visit their website at