Best Lawyers for Environmental Law in Canada

Search Best Lawyers Now

*This search returned more than the maximum results. Please refine your search using the links above.

  • Location:
  • Practice Areas:

Practice Area Definition

Environmental Law Definition

Environmental law encompasses a wide range of issues including compliance by businesses and individuals with statutes, regulations, and licencing provisions aimed at protection of the environment, environmental assessment and regulatory processes applicable to proposed projects, and the assessment and allocation of risk in relation to commercial and financial transactions relating to land and businesses.

The range of legislation and regulations concerning protection of the environment, at the federal, provincial, and territorial level continues to expand, and the enforcement provisions continue to expand as well. At the federal level, the major environmental statutes include the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which focuses primarily on the regulation of toxic substances; the Fisheries Act, which contains strict provisions for the protection of fish habitat and waters frequented by fish; and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which requires federal authorities to conduct detailed environmental assessments of projects on federal land, projects for which the federal government is undertaking itself or is providing financing, and projects which require federal licences, permits, or authorizations under specific environmental statutes and regulations. At the provincial level, environmental management and protection statutes generally include specific provisions prohibiting discharges of waste to land, water, or air, subject to obtaining permits or licences which contain strict provisions for meeting discharge standards and requiring regular monitoring and reporting of both the level of discharges and potential effects on the environment. Provincial legislation also includes environmental assessment statutes requiring detailed environmental assessment of projects which have potential impacts on the environment. Similar environmental protection provisions and environmental assessment processes are applicable in the northern territories.

Environmental lawyers provide advice to businesses with respect to the development and adoption of policies and procedures for protection of the environment. The leading case of R. v. Bata Industries in 1995 addressed the potential for personal liability of corporate officers and directors and led to increased focus on the need to develop corporate environmental management policies to ensure compliance with environmental statutes, regulations, licences, permits, and approvals.

The leading case of R. v. Sault Ste. Marie established the concept of due diligence as a defense to non-compliance with environmental statutes and regulations. More recently, federal and provincial jurisdictions have moved toward the introduction of administrative penalties for non-compliance where the concept of strict liability applies. Environmental law includes both the prosecution and the defense of prosecutions relating to non-compliance.

Fines and penalties for non-compliance can be substantial and may exceed $1,000,000 per day for each day of the occurrence. Environmental statutes have also moved towards creative sentencing which can include requirements for implementing procedures for prevention of further non-compliance, remediation requirements, and public statements of accountability.

Addressing the issue of liability for contaminated sites has been a significant focus of environmental law. Commencing in the 1980s and 1990s, provincial jurisdictions adopted contaminated sites legislation which imposed absolute and retroactive liability for the remediation of contaminated sites on a wide range of potentially responsible persons including current and former owners and operators of the site. Both the rules and the processes for determining liability for remediation of contaminated sites are complex areas of the law.

Environmental lawyers also provide advice and services in relation to commercial and financial transactions, including the conduct of due diligence processes, the identification of environmental responsibilities and risks, and the allocation of those risks between the parties to the transaction.

S. Bradley Armstrong, Q.C.
Lawson Lundell LLP

Lawson Lundell LLP logo

Environmental law encompasses a wide range of issues including compliance by businesses and individuals with statutes, regulations, and licencing provisions aimed at protection of the environment, environmental assessment and regulatory processes applicable to proposed projects, and the assessment and allocation of risk in relation to commercial and financial transactions relating to land and businesses.

The range of legislation and regulations concerning protection of the environment, at the federal, provincial, and territorial level continues to expand, and the enforcement provisions continue to expand as well. At the federal level, the major environmental statutes include the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which focuses primarily on the regulation of toxic substances; the Fisheries Act, which contains strict provisions for the protection of fish habitat and waters frequented by fish; and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which requires federal authorities to conduct detailed environmental assessments of projects on federal land, projects for which the federal government is undertaking itself or is providing financing, and projects which require federal licences, permits, or authorizations under specific environmental statutes and regulations. At the provincial level, environmental management and protection statutes generally include specific provisions prohibiting discharges of waste to land, water, or air, subject to obtaining permits or licences which contain strict provisions for meeting discharge standards and requiring regular monitoring and reporting of both the level of discharges and potential effects on the environment. Provincial legislation also includes environmental assessment statutes requiring detailed environmental assessment of projects which have potential impacts on the environment. Similar environmental protection provisions and environmental assessment processes are applicable in the northern territories.

Environmental lawyers provide advice to businesses with respect to the development and adoption of policies and procedures for protection of the environment. The leading case of R. v. Bata Industries in 1995 addressed the potential for personal liability of corporate officers and directors and led to increased focus on the need to develop corporate environmental management policies to ensure compliance with environmental statutes, regulations, licences, permits, and approvals.

The leading case of R. v. Sault Ste. Marie established the concept of due diligence as a defense to non-compliance with environmental statutes and regulations. More recently, federal and provincial jurisdictions have moved toward the introduction of administrative penalties for non-compliance where the concept of strict liability applies. Environmental law includes both the prosecution and the defense of prosecutions relating to non-compliance.

Fines and penalties for non-compliance can be substantial and may exceed $1,000,000 per day for each day of the occurrence. Environmental statutes have also moved towards creative sentencing which can include requirements for implementing procedures for prevention of further non-compliance, remediation requirements, and public statements of accountability.

Addressing the issue of liability for contaminated sites has been a significant focus of environmental law. Commencing in the 1980s and 1990s, provincial jurisdictions adopted contaminated sites legislation which imposed absolute and retroactive liability for the remediation of contaminated sites on a wide range of potentially responsible persons including current and former owners and operators of the site. Both the rules and the processes for determining liability for remediation of contaminated sites are complex areas of the law.

Environmental lawyers also provide advice and services in relation to commercial and financial transactions, including the conduct of due diligence processes, the identification of environmental responsibilities and risks, and the allocation of those risks between the parties to the transaction.