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Legal Guide

In Canada, environmental law is an area of jurisdiction shared between the federal government, the various
provincial and territorial governments, and municipalities. This jurisdictional split arose because the
Canadian constitution, which dates back to 1867, did not specifically allocate power over the “environment”,
leaving instead a gradual evolution of powers. Broadly speaking, the federal government has jurisdiction
over federally owned land and undertakings, fisheries waters, shipping, aviation (including airports),
railroads, manufacturing, import and export of toxic substances, interprovincial and international transportation,
as well as certain areas designated as being of national importance, such as ports, security and
nuclear power. Provinces regulate everything else, including emissions from industry. Municipalities in most
provinces have the delegated power to pass bylaws with respect to storm and sanitary sewer discharges,
pesticide use, noxious weeds, noise and certain other nuisances. The Supreme Court of Canada has held
that where more than one level of government has the authority to regulate, duplication is permissible as
long as there is a possibility of dual compliance, i.e. abiding by the stricter of applicable standards. In all
other cases, and generally speaking, federal law trumps over the others and provincial law will be paramount
over municipal law.

When doing business in Canada, it is important to keep in mind that the environmental laws are not uniform
among the provinces. Attempts have been made to harmonize certain standards and criteria; however, there
remain many differences with which companies operating in more than one province need to be familiar.

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