Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA)

It’s the mother of our environmental regulations and it’s up for reform.
We’re working hard to make sure we get this right

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 is the most central piece of environmental legislation in Canada. It defines what constitutes a toxic substance, establishes controls on pollution emissions and hazardous wastes, among much else. As well, a wide range of federal, provincial and municipal laws and regulations are hinged to its definitions and controls.

Currently, our environmental laws and regulations, including CEPA, are ill-equipped to deal with the hundreds of new chemicals that are developed every year and used in a vast range of personal care and household products, toys, furniture and construction materials and now clothing and much else. They are also ill-equipped to regulate endocrine or hormone disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that defy traditional understandings of toxic exposure risks. For example, EDCs are much more dangerous at extremely low doses rather than at large exposures, contravening the principle that « the dose makes the poison », often to the point that we cannot establish a safe threshold. They also affect people differently at different stages of development, starting in utero. They affect male and female bodies very differently, and we are just beginning to grasp the extent of their impacts.

To continue with the depressing news, EDCs bioaccumulate in ecosystems, particularly in our waterways where they affect fish and wildlife. Many scientists are alarmed at the number of intersex fish and water animals which threaten the reproduction of their species. Initially, women excreting birth control hormones that were flushed into our waterways were blamed, until it was understood just how many EDCs are estrogenic in nature and how widespread the problems are.

These problems can seem overwhelming. But we have a chance to act decisively and start to seriously scale back our exposures as individuals as well as our toxic impact on the environment.

This leads us to the reform of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development which is responsible for preparing a report to Parliament on the proposed reforms, has produced an excellent report. Entitled Healthy Environment, Healthy Canadians, Healthy Economy: Strengthening the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, it sets out amendments that redefine « toxic » to include endocrine disrupting chemicals and take into account the dangerous nature of their low-dose exposures, among much else.

We fully endorse the recommendations of the Standing Committee’s report and now need to show Parliament that this change is wanted and needed. Breast Cancer Action Quebec will participate fully in all consultations and work to mobilize health groups across Canada to make these recommendations part of Canadian law.

We will need all of your support to make this happen. The time is now.


As many of you know, our chemical regulatory system allows chemicals to go into production and circulation without proof of their safety. We are then required to fight a reactive battle, toxic substance by toxic substance, to prove their harm and get them out of circulation and out of our environment. In many cases, our exposure to toxic substances continues for decades after bans go into effect. 

Currently, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) is up for review, including the vital pollution control and toxic substance regulations. CEPA is the "mother" of our environmental regulations, as it defines toxic chemicals and how they are managed, it outlines the major aspects of pollution emission controls and much more.

Canada is considered by many as having the weakest chemical regulations of all Western countries. In his presentation to the Federal Parliament's Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, the president of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada said, "We are here to tell you today one key message. The chemicals management plan has been and remains on course to be a stunning public policy success." The chemical industry thinks CEPA and its Chemical Management Plan are excellent and do not need any modifications.

We beg to differ and presented our views in our brief submitted to the Standing Committee. You can read our brief here.