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Canada Passes Bill S-5 to Reform and Strengthen CEPA

Bill S-5 received Royal Assent in June, bringing substantial change to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). Among these, the right to a healthy environment and a chemical ‘Watch List’.

laboratory technician working with test tubes

July 19, 2023

By Krystal Spickler, program manager, Supply Chain team, UL Solutions

On June 13, 2023, Canada’s Bill S-5 (Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act) received royal assent. The bill was initially published in early 2022 and is marked as the first major reform to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) since its creation.

Review of CEPA

CEPA is a primary human and environmental protection act in Canada, aimed at pollution prevention and management of toxic substances. Under the Act, activities may be taken to address issues created by pollution or toxic substances not covered by other federal Canadian laws as a joint partnership between Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Health Canada. Action can include assessment of substances or materials for hazardous properties, which would include additional regulatory steps (such as regulations or guidelines) to control the substances once classified as toxic under the Act. Evaluations are also conducted for new substances prior to manufacture or import into Canada under the New Substances Program, as well as maintenance of the Domestic Substances List (DSL) which contains a list of substances in use prior to the New Substances Program.

Changes to CEPA under the new amendments

At its core, the bill also exemplifies the first federal action taken to formally recognize the right to a healthy environment. It will also bring stronger protection against toxic chemicals and pollution.

Under the bill’s requirements, future decisions enabled by CEPA should be made while respecting the right to a healthy environment. A coming framework (within the next two years) will provide additional guidance—including the key principles of “environmental justice, non-regression, and intergenerational equity”. These principles ensure that vulnerable populations are protected, that a continuous-improvement decision making approach is used, and that present needs can be met while considering the needs of future generations. Annual reports will be provided by ECCC and Health Canada.

In addition to the aforementioned, the bill’s passage will also bring change in several other impactful ways. Among these:

  • New plan of chemical management priorities: Timelines, reduction of animal testing, class-based assessments, and other information important to the prioritization of ongoing chemical assessments; to be reviewed every eight years minimum.
  • Development of a watch list: List of chemicals “capable of becoming toxic” that warrant additional action with changes in uses or other criteria—to facilitate better selection of alternative chemicals and reduce the likelihood of regrettable substitution.
  • Additional communication during the decision-making process: Allowances for citizens to request chemical assessments, transparency to timelines for assessments and for subsequent action when risk management is deemed necessary; also includes a two-year assessment period timeline.
  • Increased attention and prioritization of prohibition for substances determined toxic under CEPA and posing the most risk, including those that are persistent, bioaccumulative, carcinogenic, mutagenic, or reproductively toxic; this will include restructuring of Schedule 1 into two parts.
  • Modification of the Food and Drugs Act, which expands the Minister of Health Canada’s power to include management of risk of drugs

As noted, an implementation framework is to come, with much action required to happen within the next two years. This work will include engaging Canadians for feedback.


Bill S-5: Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act
Bill S-5 Official Text
Bill S-5 - Summary of Amendments

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