Canada: Toronto Declares Right To Healthy Environment

Last Updated: January 5 2016
Article by Paula Boutis

On December 10, 2015, Toronto became the 100th municipality to declare the right to a healthy environment. Since Toronto's declaration, Milton, Stratford and Saugeen Shores, have also joined in making the declaration. A full list of municipalities that have made the declaration for a right to a healthy environment can be found at

These declarations are all part of the David Suzuki Foundation's Blue Dot Movement, that asks all Canadian municipalities to adopt declarations that recognize their citizens' right to a healthy environment. The declarations are part of a broader campaign to ultimately see Canada enshrine a right to a healthy environment into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On its way there, the campaign aims to have at least seven out of ten provinces, representing more than 50 percent of Canadians, enact an Environmental Bill of Rights. This formula was chosen as it reflects section 38 (the amending formula) of the Canadian Constitution.

Right now, five Canadian provinces have some form of environmental bill of rights legislation. Ontario passed its Environmental Bill of Rights in 1993. The pre-amble makes reference to a right to live in a healthy environment, but the statute does not have enforceable provisions to protect or guarantee that right.

In October of 2014, MPP Linda Duncan introduced a Private Members' Bill to establish a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights. The bill did not, like most private members' bills, become law, but it did and does set the stage for further discussions at the national level and ultimately, for an amendment to the Charter.

For more background on this issue, you can read the staff report prepared for Toronto City Council.

Here is the fulltext of the declaration:

City of Toronto Declaration – The Right To A Healthy Environment

WHEREAS the City of Toronto ("City") understands that people are part of the environment, and that a healthy environment is essential to the well-being of our communities;

WHEREAS municipalities are the governments local to people and their environment, and therefore share a deep concern for the welfare of that environment;

WHEREAS the City recognizes the importance of protecting the environmental well-being of Toronto and the health, safety and well-being of Torontonians;

WHEREAS in adopting this Declaration, Council is articulating principles that complement existing legal rights and obligations;

WHEREAS Council's Strategic Plan states that Toronto is a clean, green and sustainable city, demonstrating a commitment to protecting Toronto's environment and moving toward a more sustainable future for the city;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the City finds and declares that:

1. Torontonians have a right to live in a healthy environment, including:

  • A right to breathe clean air;
  • A right to drink clean water;
  • A right to access safe and healthy food;
  • A right to access nature
  • A right to know about pollutants and contaminants released into Toronto's environment; and
  • A right to participate in decision-making that will affect their environment.

2. In order to respect, protect, fulfill and promote these rights within the City's jurisdiction, the City shall continue to implement and enhance Council-adopted plans, actions and strategies.

3. The City should strive to take a precautionary approach, evaluate cost effective and legally permissible measures, endeavour to prevent the degradation of the environment, and aim to protect the health of residents when making decisions that could impact Torontonians health or their environment.

4. The City shall continue to work with residents and other experts to set specific objectives, targets and timelines and actions the City can take, within its jurisdiction to:

  1. Have a more equitable distribution of environmental benefits and burdens within Toronto;
  2. Ensure that infrastructure and development projects protect and enhance Torontonians health and the environment;
  3. Address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and implementing adaptation measures as outlined in the City's Climate Change Action Plan;
  4. Increase density in accordance with the City's Official Plan;
  5. Enable walking, cycling and public transit as healthy and equitable modes of transportation;
  6. Ensure adequate infrastructure for the provision of safe and accessible drinking water;
  7. Promote a sustainable food system that enables access to safe, affordable, culturally appropriate and locally grown foods;
  8. Reduce solid waste and promote reuse, recycling, composting and resource recovery;
  9. Establish, maintain and enhance accessible green spaces in all neighbourhoods;
  10. Seek to attract and invest in green businesses, green energy, clean tech and jobs of tomorrow.

5.The City shall continue to consult with residents, businesses and other stakeholders in the review of existing or the development of new plans, actions and strategies that support this Declaration.

6. The City, recognizing the role other levels of government play in providing a healthy environment, shall continue to, where appropriate and feasible, participate in the consultation process for proposed actions by the provincial and federal government to help ensure their decisions protect Torontonians' health and their environment.

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.

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Paula Boutis
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