Dalhousie Law Journal


Canadian Environmental Protection Act, citizen suit, enviornmental protection action, Species At Risk Act


In the 1999 amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the federal government added a new citizen enforcement tool, known as an "environmental protection action." This was the first "citizen suit" provision in Canadian federal environmental law but it is unlikely to play more than a minor role in advancing enforcement of CEPA and is unlikely to be adopted in other environmental laws. This is because, despite initial interest in and commitment to citizen enforcement, the government was persuaded by industry representatives and others to significantly constrain the action and, shortly afterwards, to drop it entirely from the Species At Risk Act. This article reviews the arguments for and against citizen suits, the experience with them in other jurisdictions and the potential role for citizen suits in federal environmental law It concludes that citizen suits are in principle consistent with Canadian values and legal traditions and that practical difficulties can be met through careful drafting and administrative efforts. The constraints in CEPA are not necessary and, unless modified, will undermine the potential effectiveness of the citizen suit provision.