Unnatural Law: Rethinking Canadian Environmental Law and Policy


471 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7748-1049-1
DDC 344.71'046





Reviewed by Dave Bennett

David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.


This lucid, learned, and exhaustive examination of the state of
Canada’s environment and prescriptions for its improvement covers
water, air, chemicals, pesticides, energy use, resource exploitation,
biodiversity, consumption patterns, ecological fiscal reform, and
sustainable development.

Why is Canada’s environmental record so poor in view of strong
pro-environmental sentiment on the part of the Canadian public? At its
most fundamental, the reason is that Canada’s Constitution does not
require any government—provincial, territorial or municipal—to do
anything about anything. The result is duplication, discrepancies, and,
above all, a vacuum of environmental responsibility. Then there is the
political contention that the public, even environmental pressure
groups, are unable to translate environmentalism into effective laws.
The result, at least at the federal level, is a series of statutes that
have little or no practical impact on environmental improvement and,
more specifically, toxic substances, pesticides, food quality and
environmental assessment.

Boyd’s prescriptions for change are generally convincing. He rightly
argues for substitution rules whereby less-unsafe alternatives must be
used wherever they are available, but he gives us no clue as to how
these could be incorporated into regimes governing pesticides and other
toxic substances. The general failure of the environmental movement to
do this has resulted in federal laws that are quite efficiently
administered but are in the end permissive: almost all food
contaminants, drugs, pesticides, and toxic substances are approved for
use without significant constraints or qualification. As for Boyd’s
call for increased federal-provincial co-operation on the environment,
this is constantly being tried with modest results and insignificant
environmental progress to date. Unless other factors change, there would
only be more and more federal-provincial projects, with consultation as
the surrogate for action. Environmentalists already complain that they
are being consulted to death.

Unnatural Law will be an indispensable sourcebook on environmental
protection and sustainability for at least a decade to come.


Boyd, David R., “Unnatural Law: Rethinking Canadian Environmental Law and Policy,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/29430.