Looking back at my time as Commissioner – 15 years! – a very strong theme has been the passionate engagement of so many Ontarians in environmental protection. The Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) has had many success stories over the years, and some of the best have involved pro-active nudges by the public to strengthen law or policy. The public has delivered these nudges thanks to the EBR’s applications process.
As my term as Environmental Commissioner winds down, let me express my warm personal thanks to everyone who has ever submitted an application using the EBR; there are well over 1,500 of you. Whether you applied the EBR many years ago to help shut down a polluting garbage incinerator in Hamilton, or whether you recommended just last year that Toronto should get a sewage bypass alert program – or indeed whether you drafted any of the hundreds of other thoughtful submissions on so many topics that have passed through my office, you can be proud of being part of the larger EBR success story. Your example shows that democracy is not a spectator sport.
And for those of you who have long grumbled into your beer about environmental concerns – I may have grumbled with you! – but have held back from submitting an EBR application, allow me to offer some parting advice. Applications are:
easy to write. The application forms are on our website. You should make the clearest argument you can, but you don’t need to be a lawyer or hire a lawyer. You should provide the best evidence you have, but you don’t need to submit lab test data. We offer a guidebook to walk you through the steps of completing an EBR application.
open to anyone. People from all walks of life have submitted EBR applications, ranging from rural property owners, university students and retirees to First Nations groups, municipal councillors, environmental groups and even Members of Provincial Parliament. Two people need to sign. As long as you are both residents of Ontario, you can submit an EBR application. It’s that simple.
confidential. If you submit an EBR application, your name or other personal information will not be disclosed by either the ministries or by our office. Of course, you are free to go public if you like.
a way to draw attention to your issue. Many people have made their EBR application the subject of a news release, or have featured their submission on their website as a way of shedding light on the topic. For example, the Canadian Environmental Law Association has taken this approach.
The ECO’s website can help you get started, and explain your other rights under the EBR. For groups of about 30 or more, you could also request a speaker from my office to give an overview talk about your toolkit of rights under the EBR. Contact email@example.com. We will try to accommodate you.
The Environmental Bill of Rights offers Ontarians a potent set of tools, but they depend on you to be used. Best of luck!