It may come as a surprise, but the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not recognize our right to a healthy environment. The basic elements of survival: clean air, safe water and unpolluted land are not legally protected.

In a world that we have filled to the brim with people, industry and technology, we can no longer afford to take the necessities of life for granted. Over 100 countries around the world now legally recognize their citizens’ right to live in a healthy environment. Why don’t we?

What would it mean if our constitution included the right to a healthy environment?

According to Dr. David Boyd, environmental lawyer and author of The Right to a Healthy Environment: Revitalizing Canada’s Constitution, we would not allow companies in Sarnia’s chemical valley to produce five times the level of sulphur dioxide in the air than what American rules would permit. We would have to reexamine our approval of hundreds of pesticides that are no longer allowed in Europe because of health and environmental concerns. We would also have to finally provide safe drinking water to communities that are subject to long-term boil water advisories.

We would reduce our ecological footprint and do a much better job of addressing pollution and climate change issues.

Wouldn’t it hurt our economy?

When Dr. David Boyd looked at the environmental records of countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which includes most of the wealthiest countries, as well as some emerging nations like Mexico, he discovered something very interesting.

He found that 14 of the top 15 wealthiest nations include environmental protection within their constitutions. Economies do not have to prosper at the expense of the environment.

In fact, The Conference Board of Canada states that, “GDP produced at the expense of the global environment, and at the expense of scarce and finite physical resources, overstates the net contribution of that economic growth to a country’s prosperity.” This organization’s goal is to measure the quality of life for Canada and its peers. It gives Canada a “C” grade on environmental performance and ranks us 15th out of 17 peer countries.

As J. F. Kennedy said, “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” We can do so much better than this.

Ecojustice and The David Suzuki Foundation are calling on the public to demand that our right to live in a healthy environment be included in the Canadian Constitution. They have created an on-line petition that states:

We, the people of Canada, believe:

  • Clean air, water and land keep us healthy and are a human right we’re all entitled to;
  • Canada’s many plants and animals and our natural heritage should be protected for the benefit of everyone, now and into the future;
  • The beauty and diversity of nature are at the heart of what it means to be Canadian;
  • Canada should stand with more than 100 countries where the right to a healthy environment is recognized in law – including the constitution.

We therefore ask that:

  1. The right to a healthy environment be incorporated into the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  2. All levels of government enact or strengthen legislation recognizing and protecting the right to a healthy environment.

To include your name on the petition, go to: