For years we’ve been thinking about how Canada can better protect people and the environment. Over and over, we’ve arrived at the same answer: Charter recognition of the right to a healthy environment.

It’s a big idea that’s time has finally come.

It may seem novel to Canadians, but in the last 50 years the right to a healthy environment has gained recognition faster than any other human right. Around the world, more than 110 countries now recognize their citizens’ right to a healthy environment. In fact, Canada is among only a dozen nations that do not yet explicitly recognize this fundamental human right.

Most Canadians agree that strong environmental laws are important. Yet, Canada’s current patchwork of environmental laws and weak regulatory standards mean that thousands of people, disproportionately those in First Nations communities, do not have access to clean running water. Thousands of others are exposed to harmful levels of air pollution every day. Dozens of toxic chemicals already banned in other countries can still be legally used within our borders. These injustices make a clear case that Canada needs to take bold action and recognize environmental rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Why is Ecojustice is involved?

For 25 years, Ecojustice has fought for legal precedents that protect our air, our water and the natural world. In that time, we’ve become all too familiar with the ways Canada’s current patchwork of environmental laws falls short.

Evidence from around the world demonstrates that countries that recognize constitutional environmental rights and responsibilities have stronger, better enforced environmental laws. There is more citizen participation in environmental decision-making and a reduction in environmental injustices, like exceptionally high levels of pollution in poor and marginalized communities.

What would a win mean?

The Charter is Canada’s highest law. It applies to all levels of government and all other laws must conform to it. By enshrining the right to a healthy environment in the Charter, we can align our highest law with our most deeply-held values. More concretely, a Charter right to a healthy environment could prevent harmful rollbacks of environmental laws — like the sweeping changes buried in the 2012 federal omnibus budget bills. It would also make it easier for people living in toxic hotpots like Sarnia’s Chemical Valley to seek justice. Overall, countries that recognize environmental rights in their constitutions have smaller per capita ecological footprints, which is a major win for people and the planet.

Learn what environmental rights look like in action:

Read our primer: The Right to a Healthy Environment – Canada’s Time to Act

Watch our video: A Tale of Two Valleys to see how the right to a healthy environment helped one community in Brazil, and could do the same for another in Canada.