Summary of Environmental Law in Canada

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22 Transportation


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22.1 Institutions with Authority over Transportation


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This section describes the institutions and their corresponding authority for the regulation and management of transportation. It focuses primarily on the federal level and merely summarizes and gives examples of institutions at the provincial level and municipal levels.

Constitutional jurisdiction over the transportation sector is divided between the federal and provincial governments. The federal government has jurisdiction over aviation, shipping, interprovincial and international railways, transboundary trade and commerce, and works and undertakings declared to be for the benefit of Canada. Provincial governments have jurisdiction over other aspects of the transportation sector, based on their constitutional authority regarding property and civil rights within the province, matters of a purely local nature, taxation, and agriculture. Furthermore, in some areas, the federal government has delegated authority to provincial governments, but these details are beyond the scope of this summary.


The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), established under the Canada Transportation Act, is the main federal institution in the transportation sector. The CTA regulates aviation under the Aeronautics Act, transboundary railways under the Canada Transportation Act, shipping under the Canada Shipping Act, extra-provincial motor transport, and aspects of transboundary shipments of radioactive materials. It has no jurisdiction over military transportation, which is controlled by the Department of National Defence. Other important institutions in the transportation sector at the federal level are the Canadian Coast Guard, Transport Canada and its Transportation of Dangerous Goods Directorate, Harbour Commissions, Port Authorities, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.


At the provincial level, there are bodies responsible for motor transport, intraprovincial railways, boilers and pressure vessels, emergency preparedness and response, and vehicle routing.

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22.2 Public Transportation Policies


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A National Transportation Policy was created as part of the Canada Transportation Act enacted in 1996. This policy declares that "a safe, economic, efficient and adequate network of viable and effective transportation services accessible to persons with disabilities and that makes the best use of all available modes of transportation at the lowest total cost is essential to serve the transportation needs of shippers and travellers, including persons with disabilities, and to maintain the economic well-being and growth of Canada and its regions and that those objectives are most likely to be achieved when all carriers are able to compete, both within and among the various modes of transportation, under conditions ensuring that, having due regard to national policy, to the advantages of harmonized federal and provincial regulatory approaches and to legal and constitutional requirements."

Passenger rail service is financially supported by the federal government. This is due in part to constitutional guarantees made to provinces entering Confederation regarding the maintenance of rail service. The federal government has also provided a wide variety of substantial subsidies to the oil and gas industry. These include support for exploration and for hydrocarbon mega-projects.

Substantial government financial support for roads and highways is provided mostly, but not exclusively, by provincial governments. The degree to which provincial governments also support public transit varies from province to province.

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22.3 Energy Efficiency Standards for Automobile and Other Vehicles


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Divisions 4 and 5 of Part VII of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999) contain provisions that govern fuel quality and the characteristics of vehicle emissions, engines, and equipment.

CEPA 1999 gives the government more flexibility in controlling fuel quality. It provides for floors and ceilings or groups of characteristics, allowing it base standards on fuel performance rather than relying solely on formulas.

Other provisions of CEPA 1999 give the government more latitude in adopting regulations on fuel types, on when and where fuels can be used, and on the types of tests required when a fuel influences the functioning of emissions testing materials. CEPA 1999 also provides for the adoption of a national standard that outlines desirable characteristics of fuel but contributes little to reducing air pollution. CEPA current limits the levels of lead, benzene and sulfur in gasoline, and diesel fuel for road vehicles must not exceed a maximum limit for sulfur.

CEPA 1999 integrates vehicle emissions regulations formerly governed by the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which was the responsibility of Transport Canada. Among other things, the new powers subject off-road motors and equipment-as they do out-board motors, agricultural equipment, lawnmowers, and small combustion engines-to regulated emissions standards. Emissions standards for heavy and light vehicles set by the Motor Vehicle Safety Act remain in force under CEPA 1999.

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22.4 Vessel Source Pollution of Water


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This section describes regulations regarding vessel discharges into both coastal and fresh waters.


Only those substances listed in CEPA 1999 can be dumped of at sea. These substances are:

Discharges from land-based activities or normal maritime activities (e.g., bilge water) are not considered dumping at sea but are regulated nonetheless.

Dumping at sea are subject to a licencing system under CEPA 1999. Licences are granted on a case-by-case basis subsequent to application and examination. This system, in force since 1975, existed in CEPA (1988). This system, administered by Environment Canada as the Ocean Dumping and Marine Program, allows Canada to implement its commitments under the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (1972) and the 1996 Protocol.

Permits govern when and how substances may be dumped, and their storage and handling. They also set monitoring requirements. The assessment process for disposal applications includes a public notice, a requisition containing detailed information, a scientific evaluation, and payment of certain fees. Each application is assessed separately, and only the disposal of non-hazardous substances as outlined in CEPA 1999 is authorized, and then, only when dumping is appropriate and safe from an environmental standpoint. If there are preferable methods of recycling or reusing the substance, the permit will not be granted.

The federal Navigable Waters Protection Act prohibits the obstruction of navigable waters without a permit. This includes material dumped from a vessel.

The Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, as its name implies, prohibits pollution from vessels or other sources in Canadian Arctic waters. It also imposes special safety requirements for Arctic shipping. The Act and regulations also impose civil liability against ship owners for the illegal deposit of waste by ships in Arctic waters.

The federal Fisheries Act prohibits the deposit of any substance that would be harmful to fish into fish habitat. This includes the discharge from a ship of waste, such as oil-contaminated ballast water, that would be harmful to fish.

The Canada Shipping Act implements Canada's commitments under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships and the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response and Co-operation. Part XV of the Act deals with pollution prevention and response. The Act and regulations address air pollution from ships, dangerous chemicals and noxious liquid substances, dangerous goods shipping, sewage pollution prevention in the Great Lakes, and oil pollution prevention. The Act and regulations also impose civil liability and provide for a Maritime Pollution Claims Fund to which fishermen may make a claim for loss of income.

Two regulations under the Canada Shipping Act are entitled the Pleasure Craft Sewage Pollution Prevention Regulation and Non-Pleasure Craft Sewage Pollution Prevention Regulation.


At the provincial level, a variety of statutes and regulations have the effect of prohibiting or restricting pollution from vessels. These include water pollution statutes, waste management statutes, and, more generally, environmental protection statutes.

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22.5 Transportation of Hazardous Materials


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The federal government and each of the ten provinces have an elaborate, interlocking system of legislation and regulations governing the transportation of dangerous goods. (See also Chapter 14, "Environmental Emergencies".)

Federal legislation covers the handling and transport of hazardous materials by air, rail, and boat, as well as interprovicial and international terrestrial transport. Provincial statutes deal generally with handling and intraprovincial road and rail transport.

The federal-provincial regime for the transportation of hazardous goods was set up in the first half of the 1980s. The basic structure of this regime consists in a federal act (Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act) and its main regulation (Regulations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods), combined with provincial statutes and regulations, which often make reference to federal provisions. Thus, the same basic rules generally apply to both federal and provincial transport.

The other federal statutes that deal with the transportation of hazardous goods include CEPA 1999, the Canada Labour Code, the Explosives Act, the Hazardous Products Act, the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, the Canada Transportation Act, and the Railway Safety Act.

At the provincial level, aspects of the transportation of hazardous materials are covered by motor vehicle or highway traffic legislation and by waste management or environmental protection legislation. Generators of hazardous wastes are usually required to register with government authorities. The movement of hazardous wastes is also controlled through the same system. Shipping waste often necessitates the completion of a manifest on the amount and type of waste being shipped. Federal and provincial manifest requirements have in most respects been harmonized for greater efficiency. The common law also imposes certain liabilities on shippers and carriers regarding dangerous goods. However, most of these liabilities have now been incorporated into provincial legislation.

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