Environmental Law and the Citizen

AuthorJamie Benidickson
The importance of individual commitment to environmental protection
cannot by overemphasized. A s Gonthier J of the Supreme Court of Can-
ada remarked, “[e]veryone is aware t hat individually and collectively, we
are responsible for preserv ing the natural env ironment,1 and legislat ion
is replete with such observations as “all persons should be responsible
for the consequences to the environment of their act ions,”2 or with ref-
erences to “the shared responsibility of all . . . citizens for ensuring the
protection, enhancement and wise use of the environment through
individual actions.”3 The foundation for these re sponsibilities is more
than exhortation, for responsibilities are conceptually integrated with
environmental rights:
Since the correlat ive of rights is respon sibility, if we have these rig hts we
also have the re sponsibility to r espect those r ights in others and must
be prepared for constra ints on our own conduct. So there is a notion of
duty or responsibil ity, in addition to the not ion of entitlement .4
How, apart from liability under pollution laws and other general
environmental legisl ation, law promotes and facilitates environmenta lly
1 R v Canadian Pacif‌ic Ltd, [1995] 2 SCR 1028 at 1075.
2 Environment Act, RSY 2002 c 76, Preamble.
3 Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, SA 1992, c E-13.3, s 2(f). See also
Environment Act, SNS 1994-95, c 1, s 2(b)(iv).
4 EL Hughes & D Iyalomhe, “Subst antive Environmental R ights in Canada”
(1998–99) 30 Ottawa Law Review 240.
responsible individual act ion is considered in this ch apter primarily
with reference to the automobile, household waste, energy eff‌iciency,
and the Environmental Choice program for consumers.
According to the 2011 National Household Survey prepared by Statistics
Canada, roughly 15.4 million Canadian s commuted to work. Just under
three quarters (74 percent or 11.4 million people) of commuters drove
a vehicle to work while an additional 5.6 percent (867,000 people) trav-
elled to work as passengers.5 Many and var ied environmental effect s
of the automobile demonstrate linkages between individual behaviour
and environmental quality. The equally varied responses demonstrate
the complexity and the persistence of the challenge of reducing the
environmental impact of a way of life.
In terms of impact, now intim ately associated with greenhouse gas
emissions, automobile traff‌ic also makes continuing demand s on land-
use priorities, leadi ng to the destruction of agricultural and other ru ral
lands and in general under mining environmental amenities.
In responding to the envi ronmental issues raised by automobile use,
Canadian governments utilize an ar ray of instruments and incentives.
Attempts to address the problem of automobile traff‌ic volume have
included improved public-transit services, ded icated lanes to favour
multi-passenger vehicles, and, on occasion, tax measures designed to
promote alternative forms of transport such as bicycles. In some set-
tings we are now seeing toll cha rges on desig nated routes or surch arges
for travel during rush hour. Although planning and urban-design pri n-
ciples are gradually being reassessed with a view to reducing actu al
needs for transport, cour ts have emphasized the conventional utility
of highway corridors. Thus, in St Pierre v Ontario (Minister of Trans-
portation & Communications), when plaintiffs, rural landowners whose
retirement residence was adversely affected by t he construction of a
highway nearby, brought a nuisance claim, McIntyre J remarked:
In the balanci ng process inhere nt in the law of nuisance, t heir util-
ity [highways] for the public good far outweigh s the disrupt ion and
injury which is v isited upon some adjoining lands.6
5 Statistics C anada, “Commuting to Work,” online: www12.statcan.gc.ca/nhs-
enm/2011/as-sa/99- 012-x/99-012-x2011003_1-eng.cfm.
6 St Pierre v Ontario (Minister of Transportat ion & Communications), [1987] 1 SCR
906 at 916.

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