Canada: Can Municipalities Require Climate Warning Labels On Gasoline?

Last Updated: September 11 2013
Article by Meredith James and Dianne Saxe

Here's a great new idea for municipal action on climate change: warning labels!

Our Horizon is a non-profit organization with a mandate to empower people and communities to take action on climate change. Their new campaign aims to get municipalities to use their existing powers in new ways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For example, using municipal business licensing powers, why not require gasoline retailers to put climate change warning labels on gasoline dispensers? Like anti-smoking labels on tobacco packages, climate warning labels could encourage people to burn less gasoline. By raising awareness in this way, the labels could also help build demand for greater action on climate change.

Assuming that labels would reduce GHG emissions, can municipalities do this?[2] We think it's worth a try.

Business licensing powers

Under the various Municipal Acts across Canada, municipalities have substantial powers to license and regulate local businesses. Some municipalities already use this power to license service stations.

Municipal powers may not conflict with provincial or federal regulation, but there can be some overlap. In Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association v. Toronto (City),[3] the Association challenged the City's power to require restaurant operators to post the results of food premises inspections, under its licensing powers. They asserted that inspection of food premises, and posting the results of those inspections, was already dealt with by the provincial Health Promotion and Protection Act.

The Ontario Court of Appeal rejected this argument. Applying the test set out in 114957 Canada Lteé. v. Hudson (Town),[4]it found there must be an "express contradiction – that is, there must be an actual conflict in operation." The Court concluded that the municipal by-law and the Act were "designed to mesh with one another, not clash." Provincial legislation did not oust the municipality's powers to regulate in matters respecting public health.

By the same analysis, a carefully crafted climate change warning label by-law should survive legal attack, if it does not conflict directly with a federal or provincial law, is intended to complement provincial regulations and has a valid municipal purpose.

A valid municipal by-law must be grounded in benefits to the local community

A municipality's powers are set out in, and limited by, its enabling legislation. Typically, these powers are tied to "municipal issues", the economic, social and environmental well-being of the municipality and the health, safety and well-being of its residents.

In Eng v. Toronto (City),[5] the Ontario Superior Court struck down a by-law banning shark fins within the City of Toronto. The applicants challenged whether the ban had a valid municipal purpose, arguing that the federal and/or provincial government could better address the concerns behind the ban, that there would be no identifiable benefit to the City and that there was no evidence that the health of any inhabitant of the City was harmed by the purchase, sale, possession of shark fins or occasional consumption of shark fin soup.

The court found that, although broad, "municipal issues" must have a specific local nexus:

[20]      The power to deal with municipal issues is a broad power since it is not defined in the Act. However, that fact does not mean that an issue is a municipal issue merely because a policy decision is taken by City Council that an issue is important and it is desirable to take municipal action with regard to the issue. If all that was required to give jurisdiction to the City were such a policy decision, the determination of the scope of the jurisdiction of the City would be solely a matter for the decision of City Council.  That result would be inconsistent with the fact that the powers delegated to the City under the Act are limited to municipal issues.

[21]      Nor does the fact that a matter relates to one of the categories of matters identified in section 8(2) of the Act by itself make that matter a municipal issue.  For example, the criminal laws of Canada certainly bear on the "social well-being of the City", but that fact does not by itself make the matters dealt with by the Criminal Code municipal issues within the jurisdiction of the City under the Act.

The court concluded that a shark fin ban would not be invalid "merely because another level of government could impose the ban with potentially greater effect." Rather, the ban failed because there would be no identifiable benefit to the environmental well-being of the City, as the ban would not make a significant different to the protection of sharks. "[A]lthough ecological threats facing the planet affect the entire planet, including the City, that does not make those ecological threats a municipal issue." There was also no identifiable social benefit to the city. "There is nothing to suggest that the offensive practice of shark-finning in distant oceans affects the ability of Torontonians to live together as an urban community. For this reason, it cannot be considered to relate to their social well-being." Lastly, the court found there was "no air of reality to the potential adverse impact on health from shark fin consumption".

Is climate change a "municipal issue"?

Thus, the key question is whether climate change has a meaningful local nexus, so that raising awareness about it, and mitigating emissions, could be considered a "municipal issue". Is it more like shark finning, where all the harm takes place in "distant oceans", or more like pesticide use,[6] which has both local and systemic effects?

Although climate change is a global issue, its causes and impacts are also local. In terms of causes: Drivers fill their tanks each day in municipalities across Canada, and burn their gasoline driving within those municipalities. Canadians are, per capita, among the world's worst GHG emitters, and the transportation sector is the largest contributor to our GHG emissions.[7]

In terms of impacts, climate change is already having effects within municipalities, with direct impacts on municipal budgets and local health and welfare. The National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee recently released a scathing update on what climate change already means for the US, and what is coming soon.[8] "Climate change is already affecting human health, infrastructure, water resources, agriculture, energy, the natural environment, and other factors – locally, nationally, and internationally... There is mounting evidence that the costs to the nation are already high and will increase very substantially in the future, unless global emissions of heat trapping gasses are strongly reduced."

Natural Resources Canada, in their booklet Adapting to Climate Change: An Introduction for Canadian Municipalities, sets out some of the many impacts on municipalities of the changing climate:[9]

Anticipated impacts across Canada include increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events (e.g. heat waves, floods, coastal storm surges and droughts), more smog episodes and disease outbreaks, thawing of permafrost, loss of northern sea ice, and rising sea levels. These impacts will affect municipalities large and small, urban and rural, and have both positive and negative implications on infrastructure (e.g. transportation, water supply, sewage), social and economic systems (e.g., human health, competitiveness, recreation) and natural environments (e.g., biodiversity loss, habitat degradation, invasive species).

Perhaps fortunately, burning gasoline does more than just damage the climate. It also has more clearly local impacts, such as on air quality and on the urban heat island effect. The combined effect of these local impacts, and the real local pain caused by climate change as a whole, could be enough of a municipal nexus to support a labelling bylaw.

We won't know for sure until someone tries. Where is the next Hudson?


[1] Our Horizon, online: <>.

[2] At the time of writing this article, Our Horizon had not yet posted a legal opinion. They advised us, however, that it will be available shortly.

[3] 2005 CanLII 36152 (ON CA).

[4] 2001 SCC 40.

[5] 2012 ONSC 6818.

[6] 114957 Canada Lteé. v. Hudson (Town), 2001 SCC 40.

[7] Environment Canada, Canada's Emissions Trends 2012, online: <'s-Emissions-Trends-2012_e_01.pdf>.

[8] National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee, Third National Climate Assessment Report, online: <>.

[9] Natural Resources Canada, Adapting to Climate Change: An Introduction for Canadian Municipalities, online: <>.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Meredith James
Dianne Saxe
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.