Frequently asked questions about your right to a healthy environment | Finding Solutions | 2013 | Spring | Publications | David Suzuki Foundation

(Credit: Steve.Jackson via flickr)

Supporters like you have asked some excellent questions about our goal of achieving the constitutional right to a healthy environment in Canada. Here are David Boyd's answers to a few of the most frequently asked questions.

1. What difference would it make if Canadians had the right to a healthy environment?

A constitutional right to live in a healthy environment would have a transformative effect. Canadians would have a greater role in making decisions that affect the environment, our health and our communities. If governments and industries failed to respect our right to a healthy environment, we could hold them accountable. Over time, we would breathe cleaner air, drink safer water, be exposed to fewer toxic chemicals and enjoy healthier ecosystems.

If our Constitution included the right to a healthy environment, there is no way our national rules would allow five times the level of sulphur dioxide in our air than is permitted under American rules. Canada would also have to revisit the approval of hundreds of pesticides no longer used in Europe because of health and environmental concerns.

2. Do countries with the right to a healthy environment actually have healthier environments and people?

In general, these countries have smaller ecological footprints, rank higher on comparisons of environmental performance and have done a better job of addressing issues such as air pollution and climate change than countries whose constitutions lack this right. If you look at the environmental records of countries in the Organization or Economic Cooperation and Development, which includes most of the world's wealthy industrialized nations, you find 14 of the top 15 nations have constitutional provisions mandating environmental protection. Six of the seven countries with the worst environmental records lack constitutional protection for the environment.

3. Can we also tackle environmental rights at provincial, territorial and municipal levels? How?

Canadians should demand that their provincial, territorial and municipal governments enact environmental bills of rights or strengthen existing laws. Quebec is a leader in this regard, recognizing the right to a healthy environment in both its Environmental Quality Act and its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Ontario, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut also have laws recognizing this right, but these laws are weak and do not give citizens the tools needed to protect their rights. Montreal recently became the first Canadian city to recognize environmental rights and responsibilities.