Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Whale tail breaching water, Newfoundland

Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Esteemed colleagues, I am pleased to speak at second reading of Bill S-5, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act. This bill would make various amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which came into force on March 31, 2000. Those who were here at the time will remember it.

First, I congratulate the government and in particular Minister Guilbeault, who, at the invitation of the Government Representative in the Senate, chose to introduce this important bill in the Senate. I also commend Senator Kutcher for agreeing to sponsor the bill.

As I mentioned in my speech on Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Identification of Criminals Act and to make related amendments to other Acts with respect to the COVID-19 response and other measures, when the government chooses to begin the legislative process in the Senate, we are called on to play a slightly different role than usual, that is, to carefully review a bill that has received the support of a majority in the House of Commons.

The fact is that we can make legislative amendments in keeping with the government’s intent and in cooperation with the minister responsible.

Bill S-5 proposes adding to the preamble of the Canada Environmental Protection Act the recognition that every individual in Canada has a right to a healthy environment.

As a Quebec senator, I am pleased to see this principle recognized. In Quebec, the right to a healthy environment is recognized by the Environment Quality Act, which makes citizens the key concern and focus of all important decisions, including the protection of the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the noise around us.

Bill S-5 will enhance the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, or CEPA, an important statute that has already been used to ban plastic microbeads in toiletries, to prohibit asbestos and to prevent the use of dangerous chemicals in baby bottles.

As drafted, Bill S-5 also presents the Senate with an opportunity to strengthen the legislation regarding toxicity testing on animals. This is a cruel practice that we should look to minimize and hopefully eliminate in our society. Indeed, during the 2021 election, the Liberal Party pledged to phase out chemical testing on animals by 2035.

However, Bill S-5 falls a bit short on that promise. As a matter of fact, it contains only a reference in the preamble, which is proposed to be added to CEPA. It reads as follows:

Whereas the Government of Canada recognizes the . . . importance of promoting the development and timely incorporation of scientifically justified alternative methods and strategies in the testing and assessment of substances to reduce, refine or replace the use of vertebrate animals . . .

However, Bill S-5, as I mentioned, does not contain any specific provisions to achieve that goal.

On March 3, in this chamber, I asked Minister Guilbeault whether the government was open to including in the bill specific provisions regarding animal toxicity testing. I was delighted to hear this response from the minister:

As a legislator, I’m always open to making my bills better, and I would invite you or any member of the Senate to come forward with proposals to improve and strengthen the bill as it moves forward.

. . . I welcome your proposals to improve the bill . . . .

Today, I’m pleased to report that four Canadian animal welfare organizations are working cooperatively to help us develop amendments to Bill S-5 regarding chemical testing on animals. They are Animal Justice, the Canadian Society for Humane Science, Humane Canada and Humane Society International/Canada.

I commend to you their policy expertise, including relevant scientific backgrounds, and suggest that representatives of these animal welfare organizations be invited to participate in the committee’s study.

From these groups, I have learned that toxicity testing is the most harmful and painful use of animals in scientific research. Toxicity tests impacted approximately 90,000 animals in 2019 alone. Moreover, such tests fall into the Canadian Council on Animal Care’s Category E tests. This is the most severe category of harm that animals can experience. Category E tests cause death, severe pain and extreme distress, and may include procedures such as inflicting burns or trauma on unsedated animals and forcing ingestion or topical application of deadly substances.

Personally, I was shocked to learn of the scale of this testing in Canada. I was also surprised to learn of the range of species involved in Category E testing. That includes guinea pigs, rabbits, mice and other small mammals, pigs, sheep, beavers, chickens, turkeys, hummingbirds and many species of marine and freshwater fish.

Despite all this suffering, it is noteworthy that animal testing is often a poor predictor of human outcomes, and alternatives are increasingly available. According to Dr. Elisabeth Ormandy, Executive Director of the Canadian Society for Humane Science:

Non-animal testing methods are becoming increasingly available, and are often more reliable, as well as more time- and cost-effective. . . .

The methods include in vitro testing of human cells, computer models, open source data and bioinformatic methods.

In this context, south of the border, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has committed to reducing its request for, and funding of, mammal studies by 30% by 2025 — two years from now — and to ending the use of chemical testing on mammals by 2035. In Europe, the Netherlands has committed to phasing out most types of animal testing by 2025, and the European Union has developed strong legal tools to reduce and replace the use of animals in toxicity testing.

Canada can take guidance from these examples in implementing the governing party’s undertaking to phase out toxicity testing on animals by 2035. The Senate now has the opportunity to help to achieve this goal.

Changes to strengthen the bill could include, for example, the following five ideas: a statutory recognition of the principle that toxicity testing on animals should be a last resort in considering scientific alternatives; a legally mandated strategic plan to reduce and replace testing on animals for chemical safety assessments under CEPA towards 2035; legally mandated reporting tools on progress, such as required annual reporting to Parliament by the minister; consideration as to whether Bill S-5’s language should cover all animals, not just vertebrate animals, and in the context of any potential harmful testing, such a change could recognize evolving scientific knowledge about creatures like the amazing octopus, as profiled in the Academy Award-winning Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher; and finally, the committee could consider establishing an enforcement mechanism in the legislation with a coming into force of 2035, such as a prohibition on toxicity testing with a requirement for ministerial authorization for exceptional cases after that target date. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency plans that any mammal studies beyond 2035 would require approval on a case‑by‑case basis.

It will be very helpful to have the input of government on the best approach to achieve the shared goal of a 2035 phase-out as well as incremental progress in the meantime. Collaboration with the government can serve senators well in providing — in this case — not sober second thought, but rather more proactive policy contributions to Bill S-5 with no need for amendments to go back and forth between both chambers.

With Bill S-5, we have the opportunity to put an end to the terrible suffering inflicted on tens of thousands of animals each year in Canada and to become a society that is more humane and respectful of the other living beings around us that complete our ecosystem.

As I said before, some categories of animals that are used for testing product toxicity are also pets for children and even adults. This has to stop.

In 2015, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously passed Bill 54, An Act to improve the legal situation of animals, which took effect on December 5, 2015.

That legislation, based on provisions that already exist in Manitoba, Ontario, British Columbia and France, changes the legal status of pets from “things,” or property, to “sentient beings.” Accordingly, it states that owners must ensure that animals are cared for based on their biological needs, including exercise — which is good for us, too.

Right here in the Senate, over the past few years, bills that have put an end to animal abuse have been passed into law. I am thinking of the legislation to end the captivity of whales and dolphins, sponsored by Senator Sinclair and, before him, Senator Moore.

I also want to acknowledge the work done by Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen, whose Bill S-214 called for a ban on the use of animals for testing cosmetic products. This initiative was included in the Liberal Party’s platform during the last election campaign, and the government has promised to implement it by amending the Food and Drugs Act shortly.

One of the bills currently being studied by this chamber, sponsored by Senator Klyne and entitled the Jane Goodall act, proposes measures to protect wild animals in captivity and ensure their conservation and welfare.

The fact is that, as scientific knowledge about animals increases, the circle of empathy towards them widens. In that regard, the Senate has played, and I hope will continue to play, an important role in enhancing respect for the species around us and in recognizing that, in the ecosystem that sustains us, they deserve our respect, as First Nations peoples understood long before us.

In conclusion, I invite all senators to pass Bill S-5 at second reading as soon as possible so that it can be referred to committee for further study, including consideration of proposed amendments, particularly with respect to animal testing. Thank you.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

 

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