Tracking Environmental Crime through CEPA: Canada's Environment Cops or Industry's Best Friend?

By Girard, April L.; Day, Suzanne et al. | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Tracking Environmental Crime through CEPA: Canada's Environment Cops or Industry's Best Friend?


Girard, April L., Day, Suzanne, Snider, Laureen, Canadian Journal of Sociology


This century has brought an increasing awareness of global environmental destruction and its implications for the survival of all life on Earth. While nation-states in general have been slow at responding to these threats, most have now passed laws to protect universal goods such as air, water, and citizen health. Environmental concern in Canada, rooted in the cultural ferment of the 1960s, spurred the establishment of a new federal Department of the Environment (now Environment Canada) in 1972. Environmental activism in the 1980s produced the first Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), passed on June 30, 1988 and followed 11 years later by CEPA 1999. Today, the Canadian government is under national and international pressure from advocacy groups to take serious action on pollution; climate change; and the depletion of resources, species, and watercourses. Many of these environmental movements are decidedly global; the resources of the Internet give them ready access to the knowledge claims of the natural sciences to increase pressure on recalcitrant regimes, demanding new legislation and more effective enforcement of existing environmental laws. Resistance to environmentalism also has gone both global and digital: powerful interests and industries, national and increasingly transnational, use the languages of moderation and progress and the spectres of unemployment and depression to challenge those advocating nonnegotiable laws backed by meaningful criminal sanctions (Paehlke 2000; CBC News 2002).

In Canada, Environment Canada is the federal ministry with primary responsibility for the environmental portfolio. It professes total commitment to environmental sustainability, claiming its policies balance protection of the environment with business interests and the economy (touted as synonymous with "prosperity" by a succession of governments). However, even the kindest critics admit this "balance" has generally privileged the claims of business and development industries over the protection of Canada's air, water, and wildlife--the failure to honour the Kyoto Agreement is a case in point (Boyd 2003; Schrecker 2005). Another example is a five-year study reported by the Commission for the Environmental Co-operation of North America which found that the direct release of harmful pollutants into the environment increased in Canada by 5% between 1998 and 2002 (Sallot 2005). Even compared to the United States, another country with an egregious environmental record, Canada lags behind. During this same period, 1998 to 2002, the United States decreased its direct pollutant release by 14% (Sallot 2005; see also Van Nijnatten 1999; Boyd 2003). Further, in 2008 the Canadian government lobbied against American legislation banning the purchase of fuels "whose production releases more global warming pollution than conventional petroleum," a prohibition aimed at Alberta's oil sands and their massive environmental impact (Mittelstaedt 2008). The Canadian federal government's latest "Green Plan," announced in the 2008 budget, contains no carbon taxes and abolishes rebates to encourage purchase of fuel-efficient cars (CBC News 2008). Prime Minister Stephen Harper portrays environmental protection as the enemy of economic development and prosperity, claiming a carbon tax would "wreak havoc on Canada's economy, destroy jobs, [and] weaken business" (Chase 2008:1). The global recession and credit crisis that have ravaged financial markets will only strengthen this short-sighted economic focus. While there have been victories for the environment over economic considerations in the past, including banning DDT (1985) and leaded gasoline (1990), new threats have appeared and previous problems (e.g., acid rain, plastic biodegradability, and species extinction) have reemerged.

This paper reviews Canada's environmental record over the last 20 years by examining the enforcement record of CEPA, originally passed in 1988. Using CEPA's annual enforcement records and related documents--including Environment Canada Reports on Plans and Priorities, Senate and House of Commons five-year reviews of CEPA 1988 and CEPA 1999 and Environment Canada's response to these reviews--the paper documents the shifts and changes in the regulatory enforcement of CEPA and argues that environmental laws must have much more than a symbolic status to effectively protect the environment. …

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