A Children’s Clean Air Act for Canada?

May 2005

Will Canada take action to ensure the safety and health of our children, or will it continue as an environmental laggard? That is the question being asked by a coalition of environmentalists promoting a “Children’s Clean Air Act.” The coalition recently asked the ELC to prepare a draft Act for the coalition, and a form of the ELC’s draft legislation will likely be submitted to Federal Parliament as a Private Member’s Bill.

Documentation abounds regarding children’s special vulnerabilities to environmental contaminants. Studies have documented the rise in asthma and respiratory illnesses among children in recent years, as environmental pollution has skyrocketed. Previous efforts had been made to try and encourage the government of Canada to take action on this issue, but without success. In fact in 1999, when Canada was finalizing the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), the Canadian Public Health Association passed a Motion calling upon the Ministries of Health and of the Environment to ensure that CEPA give appropriate protection to children. However, their requests went unheeded, and CEPA was passed without any section specifically addressing health and safety risks that children face from environmental contaminants.

One of the most important aspects of this legislation would be its effect on standard setting. Thus far, the standards that have been set regarding allowable limits for emissions of pollution are based on studies that have been conducted on healthy middle-aged men. As a result, the standards that have been set do not adequately protect children. Part of the Children’s Clean Air Act would be to establish a Task Force that would conduct, coordinate and compile research aimed at examining the specific threats posed by environmental contaminants to children’s health. This Task Force would also evaluate actions of federal agencies and federal legislation to ensure that it addresses children’s special vulnerabilities.

The impetus for this piece of legislation arose out of a different case the ELC worked on — the controversy that surrounded the Crofton Pulp and Paper Mill and its plans to burn tires, coal and railway ties as auxiliary fuels in 2004. Residents were enraged at this proposition, and protested these plans, armed with information about the potential health hazards of this course of action. They began working towards trying to ensure that a similar scenario would not occur in the future, when Dave Stevens of CHOKED in Smithers, BC came up with the idea of a piece of legislation centred around protecting children from risks from environmental pollution.