Dear Committee Members:
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper is a charitable environmental group working to protect water quality in Lake Ontario. Our program is part of an international alliance of 110 Waterkeepers worldwide, all of whom maintain a grassroots, community-based focus on water protection.
Waterkeeper?s roots are in environmental law. It is our goal to improve the quality of water and to strengthen the communities in the Lake Ontario watershed. For this reason, we support any serious measures taken by the City of Toronto to keep harmful substances out of our local waterways.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper reviewed the draft pesticides by-law and identified three issues which we wish to draw to the attention of the Toronto Works Committee and to city councillors:
The draft by-law nicely complements federal and provincial environmental standards;
Our experience suggests that environmental laws need clear and strict enforcement policies to be effective;
In addition to the obvious costs associated with implementing this by-law, councillors should consider the many hidden costs we currently face as a result of pesticide pollution.
The by-law complements existing environmental protections
toronto's draft pesticides by-law is not a redundant proposal. It provides an important complement to provincial and federal standards set out in statutes such as the Ontario Water Resources Act, the federal and provincial Environmental Protection Acts, the Migratory Birds Regulations, and the Fisheries Act.
While these laws seek to limit pollution in our local waterbodies, Waterkeeper?s experience suggests that many of these standards are difficult to enforce in the case of pesticide pollution.
There are, for example, an astounding number of pipes that discharge untreated water into toronto's rivers ? more than one thousand pipes on the Don River alone. While each individual pipe may be discharging pesticides in concentrations below Ontario?s Water Quality Objectives, the cumulative impact of pesticides flowing untreated from thousands of pipes is devastating to our urban waterways.
In order to prove an offence has been committed under provincial and federal statutes, we must also demonstrate the identity of the accused. If the ?environmental offence? is the cumulative impacts of thousands of discharges, it is nearly impossible for a private citizen to effectively use these existing statutes to prevent pesticide pollution or to deter future offenders from polluting our rivers.
In addition to the complementary nature of the federal, provincial, and proposed municipal standards, toronto's draft pesticides by-law is an accurate mirror of Environment Canada?s policy regarding protection of our waterways. In 2000, Environment Canada adopted the precautionary principle. Environment Canada describes the precautionary principle as, ?recognizing that the absence of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason to postpone decisions when faced with the threat of serious or irreversible harm.?1 This principle can also be found in the preamble to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act of 1999.2
It is likely that the Toronto Works Committee will hear submissions presenting differing opinions regarding the toxicity of pesticides, the ?true? nature of the effects of these chemicals, etc. To analyze these submissions and make recommendations based on the precautionary principle would be in keeping with Environment Canada?s well-established policies.
An effective bylaw requires effective enforcement
Our experience suggests that environmental laws need to be accompanied by clear and strict enforcement policies in order to be effective. As Justice O?Connor noted in his reports from the Walkerton Inquiry, standards which appear to be ?optional? or have the status ?guidelines? are rendered meaningless.
If and when city council passes a bylaw to restrict pesticides use, it should also consider the adoption of a clear enforcement policy to ensure that the bylaw has meaning and force. Such a policy would provide the general deterrence factor which is needed to ensure polluters take the law seriously and choose to comply with these standards rather than run the risk of being caught.
When polluters try to avoid the financial costs of keeping pesticides out of our waterways, those costs do not disappear
In addition to the obvious costs associated with implementing this by-law, councillors should consider the many hidden costs we currently face as a result of pesticide pollution. What really happens when polluters try to save money by pesticides into our waterways? The costs do not disappear:
The costs are borne by citizens who cannot touch our urban rivers because they are so toxic.
The costs are borne by fishers who catch, handle, and often eat contaminated fish. It is important to note that a significant percentage of the subsistence fishers we see around Toronto are immigrants from other countries who have little knowledge of the contaminants in their local fishing holes.
The costs are borne by hunters who shoot and eat migratory birds which have lived and eaten from our contaminated rivers and then flown hundreds of miles to another region.
The costs are borne by children who grow up expecting urban waterways to be off-limits and who remain oblivious to the social and recreational activities which build healthy communities.
The costs are borne by the city, which cannot earn tax dollars from otherwise prime real estate because our rivers and waterfronts so notoriously contaminated that the property values are reduced.
The costs are borne by government agencies which must fund enforcement officers and expensive investigations to trace pesticide sources and prosecute offenders one by one until there is general compliance with our water quality standards.
In short, the costs are borne by everyone except the polluters themselves. For companies which feel the use of pesticides is integral to their bottom line, we must remember that we are providing them with a direct subsidy every time we let them dump pesticides in our rivers.
Should tax dollars fund the infrastructure upgrades needed to bring toronto's waste water system into compliance with environmental standards, while the polluters who use the system to their advantage do so with impunity?
toronto's draft pesticides by-law levels the playing field. It complements Canada?s environmental protection policies, and it ensures that the costs of pesticide pollution are not borne unfairly by the community at large.
If you have any questions regarding our submission, please do not hesitate to contact us at any time.
Thank you for your consideration,