Back to top

New report says improvements needed for federal assessment law to safeguard the environment and communities

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Thousands of projects escape assessment under federal law

OTTAWA, Unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe Territories — A new report released today on the federal Impact Assessment Act (IAA) reveals challenges with its implementation, and sets out recommendations for ensuring that the law lives up to its promise.

Enacted in 2019 to fulfil election campaign commitments to introduce new, fair environmental review processes for new industrial projects and proposals, the Act is intended to foster sustainability, avoid adverse effects and respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples. “Is Canada’s Impact Assessment Act Working?” demonstrates that the IAA lacks clear guidance to ensure those goals are met.

The report shows that the Act is being applied to only a handful of projects per year, leaving thousands of projects unassessed, including high carbon projects like in-situ oil sands and fracking operations. The report authors recommend requiring all risky projects to undergo federal assessment, and establishing a climate test to help Canada meet its climate commitments.

The report notes that while the Act allows all members of the public to participate in impact assessments, opportunities to do so may be too short and perfunctory to be meaningful. The report also recommends measures to better respect Indigenous rights and authority, and ensure that decisions are based on science rather than politics.

The report’s findings are based on reviews of the first ten projects to have entered into the assessment process since the Act came into force – including the Gazoduq LNG project in Quebec and northeastern Ontario, Coalspur Vista Coal Mine in Alberta, and the Ring of Fire road projects in northern Ontario.

View the full report here.

Quotes:

“The Impact Assessment Act is a big improvement on our old laws, but we need to make sure it’s delivering. The public won’t trust decisions made in a black box – we need a transparent framework to ensure that projects like pipelines, mines and dams are truly in the public interest.” — Anna Johnston, Staff Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law Association

“The Impact Assessment Act provides a good foundation for impact assessment, but more work is needed. Canada deserves a framework that ensures decisions about projects are made in ways that are inclusive, collaborative, transparent, and accountable to the people and communities that are impacted.” — Mike Kofahl, Staff Lawyer, East Coast Environmental Law

“Canada should be using every tool in our toolbox to address the climate emergency — especially as we’re not on track to meet our targets — yet the Impact Assessment Act still falls short of providing a climate test. Every new major energy or infrastructure proposal should be vetted based on our climate commitments. If a project only makes sense if it ignores climate change, it shouldn’t be approved.” — Julia Levin, Senior Climate and Energy Program Manager, Environmental Defence

“Even when we manage to improve our laws, what matters most at the end of the day is to make sure they are effectively implemented. Two years after passage of Bill C-69, much remains to be done to ensure the legislation's objectives are truly respected. And this should start with greater efforts towards ensuring meaningful public participation and rigorous assessments of climate-related impacts.” — Geneviève Paul, Executive Director, Quebec Environmental Law Centre (CQDE)

“Our report includes practical recommendations that will strengthen the evidentiary basis for decisions in project assessments, and impose greater rigour in the use of regional assessments in order to address the cumulative effects of human activities. Cumulative effects assessment needs to be a primary focus, rather than an afterthought.” — Hugh Benevides, Advisor

"The new impact assessment law is better than the previous one in terms of public participation and ensuring that climate and biodiversity impacts are considered. However, only a handful of the most harmful projects in Canada will be required to be assessed in any given year so Nature Canada is not convinced that the new law puts Canada on a path to achieve its commitments to net zero emissions and reverse biodiversity loss". — Stephen Hazell, Emeritus Counsel, Nature Canada

-30-

For more information, contact:

Anna Johnston | Staff Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law Association
604-340-2304 | ajohnston@wcel.org

Sophie Turri | Chargée des communications, CQDE
438-979-7951 | sophie.turri@cqde.org