Was protection of the environment added to the Constitution in 1982?

The short answer is that, no, even with the chance to update and change our constitution, the Government of Canada decided not to include any environmental protections. However, this doesn’t mean that people weren’t trying to get it included! Even in the 1980s, there were already some who were fighting to have protections for the environment at a constitutional level.

One example of this occurred before the text of the Constitution Act, 1982 was finalized when the federal government circulated a piece of draft legislation and asked stakeholders to respond with their comments on the potential Canadian constitutional text. At the time, it was known as Bill C-60. [1] Although not the exact text that would eventually be signed into law, there were certain similarities between this first version and the end result. In Bill C-60, the proposed Section 6 guaranteed: “The right of the individual to life, and to the liberty and security of his or her person and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law.” [2] This section was not dramatically changed when finally incorporated into the Constitution.

Knowing this, do you know what this section became in the Charter?

….Eventually, it morphed into Section 7 which guarantees that: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” [3]

Can you spot the similarities between the two versions?

Before the final version was established and when Section 6 of Bill C-60 was still on the table, the Canadian Environmental Law Association (“CELA”) submitted a brief to the Canadian Parliament arguing for the inclusion of the environment in the proposed constitutional text. [4] In particular, CELA suggested that Section 6 of Bill C-60 include an additional section that reads: “the right of the individual to environmental quality and environmentally sound planning.”[5] Unfortunately, this proposal was rejected and CELA did not push further when the Charter was inevitably drafted. [6]

Following these historic constitutional amendments, the past 35 years in constitutional law have focused primarily on legal challenges to the Charter.

<< 1867 was a long time ago – what has happened since then?

Should we include the environment in the Canadian Constitution? >>

[1] Bill C-60, 30th Parl., 3rd sess., 26-27 Eliz. II, 1977-78. 

[2] Bill C-60, 30th Parl, 3rd sess., 26-27 Eliz. II, 1977-78, s 6.

[3] Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11, s 7.

[4] Colin P. Stevenson, “A New Perspective on Environmental Rights after the Charter” (1983) 21;3 Osgoode Hall LJ 390 at 401-402.

[5] Toby Vigod & John Swaigen, “Brief to the Joint-Senate/House of Commons Committee on the Constitution of Canada Bill C-60” (29 September 1978) Canadian Environmental Law Association, online: https://cela.andornot.com/archives/media/docs/FONDS%20CELA/SOUS-FONDS%20Publications/SERIES%20Other/FILE%20CELA%20briefs%20and%20responses%20to%20government%20consultations%20Other/ITEM%20Brief%20on%20Bill%20C-60/Brief%20on%20Bill%20C-60.pdf

[6] Colin P. Stevenson at 403.





The Canadian Constitution And Environmental Law

Lesson Plan: Fundamentals of Environmental Law
Lesson Plan: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Lesson Plan: Tragedy of the Commons
Lesson Plan: Climate Litigation

Curriculum Connections


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