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The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO)

What is the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO)?

The ECO is the province’s environmental watchdog, an independent officer of the Ontario Legislature. Learn more about the ECO.

Who is the ECO?

Dr. Dianne Saxe has been the Environmental Commissioner since December 2015. Learn more about Commissioner Saxe.

What does the ECO do?

The ECO promotes and provides advice and assistance about the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR); reports on the implementation of, and compliance with, the EBR; and reports on Ontario’s progress reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving energy conservation and efficiency. Learn more about the ECO’s role and responsibilities.

What does the ECO report on?

We report annually to the Legislative Assembly on: ministries’ compliance with the Environmental Bill of Rights and progress on environmental protection; progress in Ontario on climate change; and progress in Ontario on energy conservation and efficiency. Learn more about the ECO’s reports.

Can the ECO investigate alleged illegal activity?

No. The ECO does not have the legal authority to investigate alleged illegal activities in the same way that other provincial ministries and agencies, like the Ontario Provincial Police and the Ombudsman, can. Learn more about the ECO’s role and responsibilities.

Can the ECO intervene to help me challenge a government decision?

No. The ECO does not have the authority to intervene, challenge or overrule provincial, municipal or federal laws, by-laws or other decisions. Learn more about the ECO’s role and responsibilities.

Can the ECO force the government to do anything?

No. The ECO does not have the power to force the government to do anything, including change a law, policy or permit, investigate alleged illegal activity, or lay charges. The ECO’s power lies in providing unbiased reports to the Ontario Legislature, highlighting poor compliance with the Environmental Bill of Rights and opportunities to improve progress on environmental issues. Learn more about the ECO’s role and responsibilities.

How can I get a copy of an ECO report?

You can download them from the Our Reports section of our website, or you can Contact us for hard copies or a flash drive containing all our reports.

Does the ECO offer workshops or presentations on the Environmental Bill of Rights?

Yes. Our staff is available to give presentations about Ontarians’ rights under the EBR. This service is available to groups, organizations, or classes that have an interest in the rights offered. Presentations can be tailored for specific audiences, but are generally between 20 minutes and one hour in length. Depending on the size of the group, these presentations can be at the ECO’s downtown Toronto office, at a location of your organization’s choosing or via webinar. Contact us to discuss how we can provide a workshop, webinar or presentation to suit your needs.

The Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR)

What is the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR)?

The Environmental Bill of Rights gives you a way to participate in Ontario government decisions about the environment, and hold the government accountable for these actions. For more information please see Your Rights.

What are my environmental rights under the EBR?

Go to the Your Rights section of our website to learn the basics of your environmental rights.

Does the EBR apply to municipalities and municipal by-laws?

The public participation rights under the EBR do not apply to decisions made by municipal councils. However, the EBR does apply to certain Acts, policies, regulations and instruments of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH). The MMAH is responsible for municipal government and community planning and administers the Planning Act. You can comment on proposals for environmentally significant policies and Acts made by the MMAH. You will be able to comment on proposals for Planning Act regulations that affect the environment, and for environmentally significant instruments issued by the MMAH.

The ECO may comment on environmental, energy and climate issues in Ontario, even if they involve municipalities.

Application for Review

You can apply for a review of an EBR-prescribed policy, Act, regulation or instrument of the MMAH. You may also apply for a review of the need for a new Act, policy, or regulation of the MMAH. Under the EBR, you cannot directly apply for a review of a decision made by a municipal council. However, if the council’s decision requires an approval by a provincial ministry before it can be implemented, you may be able to comment on the ministry’s proposal for an instrument, appeal the ministry’s decision or seek a review of the instrument.

Application for Investigation

The Planning Act and its regulations and instruments are not subject to Applications for Investigation, because they have not been prescribed under O. Reg. 73/94 and O. Reg. 681/94 under the EBR.

Right To Sue

The Planning Act and its regulations and instruments are not subject to court actions under the harm to a public resource provisions of the EBR. However, other provisions such as the public nuisance provision may be used (see How To Sue Over A Public Nuisance for more information).

Employer Reprisals

Currently you are protected if your employer punishes you for participating in decision making about a proposal for an environmentally significant MMAH policy or Act, or the MMAH’s Statement of Environmental Values. You will also be protected against employer reprisals if you seek enforcement of, or give information in relation to, the Planning Act or its regulations and instruments which are classified under the EBR. At that time, you will also be protected if your employer penalizes you for participating in decision making about an MMAH EBR-prescribed Act, regulation or instrument.

Need More Information?

Contact us.

How does the EBR apply to the Environmental Assessment Act?

The Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) is administered by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC), not the Environmental Commissioner.

Under the EAA, proposals for major public and some private projects are assessed to make sure they are environmentally acceptable. Because the EAA provides for some public participation, the EAA is exempted from parts of the EBR so that public participation processes aren’t duplicated. The MOECC must consider its Statement of Environmental Values when it makes decisions under the EAA.

The Environmental Registry

What’s posted on the Environmental Registry:

  • Environmentally significant policies and regulations under the EAA
  • Amendments to the EAA
  • Exemptions from the Environmental Assessment (EA) process

What's not posted on the Environmental Registry:

  • EAs and Terms of Reference proposals
  • Instruments, such as permits and approvals, which implement decisions that were already approved as part of individual or Class EAs (a Class EA is an Environmental Assessment of a group of activities).

Application for Review

You can request a review of all policies and regulations under the EAA, and of the EAA itself. You can also apply for a review of a decision to exempt an undertaking from the EA process, if that decision was made after November 15, 1994. You cannot apply for a review of the need for a new exemption for a proposed project or activity under the EAA. You cannot apply for a review of a decision to approve an undertaking if the decision was made on or before November 15, 1994.

Application for Investigation

You can apply for an investigation of a violation of the EAA or its regulations. You can also apply for an investigation of a violation of conditions attached to an exemption of an undertaking from the EA process. You can apply for an investigation of an alleged contravention of the conditions on an EA approval.

Right to Sue

You have the right to sue for harm to a public resource that results from a violation of the EAA, its regulations and prescribed instruments under it. Employer Reprisals You are protected if your employer punishes you for seeking enforcement of, or for giving information in relation to, the EAA, its regulations and prescribed instruments under it.

Need More Information?

Contact:

Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change
Environmental Assessment and Approvals Branch
General Inquiry: 416-314-8001
Toll Free: 800-461-6290
Fax: 416-314-8452

or

Constance Wright-Lue, Administrative Assistant
Environmental Approvals Access and Service Integration Branch, Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change
1st Floor, 135 St. Clair Avenue W., Toronto, ON, M4V 1P5
416-314-1051; constance.wright-lue@ontario.ca

The Environmental Registry

What is the Environmental Registry?

The Environmental Registry is a searchable electronic database of the Ontario government’s environmentally significant proposals and decisions. It’s where you can read and comment on government proposals. For more information, please see How to Comment on Government Proposals.

What sorts of proposals are posted on the Environmental Registry?

Prescribed ministries use the Environmental Registry to notify you of their proposals, decisions and exceptions regarding policies, Acts, regulations or instruments that could significantly affect the environment.

What is an "instrument"?

An “instrument” is a document of legal effect issued under an Act, including a permit, licence, approval, authorization, direction or order.

How can I access the Environmental Registry?

You can access the Environmental Registry online at www.ebr.gov.on.ca. There is also a permanent link to the Registry on our homepage.

Commenting on Proposals on the Environmental Registry

How much time do I have to submit a comment?

Ministries are required to give you at least 30 days to comment on a proposal. In many cases, however, they provide longer comment periods on proposals for Acts, regulations or policies. The length of the comment period will be on the Environmental Registry notice itself.

If I submit a comment, who will see it?

Comments submitted under the EBR are part of the public record, and the content may be viewed by ministry and ECO staff and members of the public. Some privacy protections apply based on the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). If your comment is submitted online, the text of your comment will be viewable on the Environmental Registry by the public once the ministry makes its decision and posts a decision notice.

Do not include personal identifiers in your online submission. If you include personal identifiers in your online submission, such as information about your location or neighbours, your comment will not be viewable online and will only be available for viewing, on request, at a ministry office and after personal identifiers have been blacked out. Your email address and other related information supplied to the Ontario government to access the online comment feature will not be linked to your comment and in normal circumstances ministry staff will not be able to identify you.

I don’t live in Ontario. Can I still comment on a proposal on the Environmental Registry?

Yes, you don’t need to be a resident of Ontario to comment on proposals.

Once I submit a comment, what happens next?

The ministry is required to consider received comments and, in its decision notice, explain any effects the comments had on the final decision (i.e., how the ministry made changes, if any, as a result of the comments).

Appealing Government Decisions

Can I appeal a government decision posted on the Environmental Registry?

Certain decisions made on instruments by prescribed ministries are subject to appeal. The decision notice for the instrument (found on the Environmental Registry) usually indicates whether a leave to appeal application can be launched and where to file the application. There is no right to appeal decisions made on policies, Acts and regulations. For more information please see How to Appeal a Decision.

For more information please see How to Seek Leave to Appeal a Decision.

Who can appeal a decision?

Any resident of Ontario can file a leave to appeal application, including an incorporated group.

How long do I have to appeal a decision?

You have 15 days to file your appeal. Holidays and weekends are counted in the 15-day period. The 15-day period is extended by a day if the last day of the appeal period lands on a holiday, as provided by the Legislation Act.

Can I join an appeal already underway?

Yes. Section 47(7) of the Environmental Bill of Rights provides that residents can apply to join in an appeal that is already underway. Please contact the relevant tribunal for details on their procedures and rules.

Applications for Review and Investigation

I want the Ontario government to change or create an environmental law, regulation, policy or instrument. What should I do?

Any two Ontario residents can join together to ask a minister to review existing policies and prescribed Acts, regulations, and instruments. Or you can ask a minister to review the need for new Acts, regulations and policies. For more information, see How to Request a Review.

I have evidence that someone has broken an environmental law, regulation or instrument. What should I do?

Any two Ontario residents can join together to ask a ministry to investigate if they think someone has contravened or violated an environmentally significant Act, regulation, or instrument. For more information, see How to Request an Investigation.

Can the Environmental Commissioner help me write my application?

The ECO cannot do the work for you, but can help you understand the process and make sure your application is complete. Contact us for more information.

If I submit an application, do I have to give my name?

To make an application for review or investigation, you and your co-applicant must both be Ontario residents. Your application must include your names, addresses and proof of Ontario residency. The ministries are required by law to keep your personal information confidential. This means that only a small number of staff at each ministry will know your name. Your name may become public if you are asked by a ministry, and agree, to provide formal evidence in a court related to your application.

What does the Environmental Commissioner do with my personal information?

We enter the information into our internal database and use the information to prepare reply correspondence. The ECO has policies that require staff to keep the names of applicants confidential.

What happens after I submit an application?

The ECO reviews your application for completeness, sends you an acknowledgement letter, and forwards the application on to the appropriate ministry (or ministries). You can find a complete rundown of the processes at How to Request a Review and How to Request an Investigation.

If I don’t like the government’s decision on my application, can I appeal?

No. However, the ECO reviews how ministers handle requests for reviews and investigations, and flags criticisms in our reports to the Legislature.

Can the Environmental Commissioner challenge the government’s decision on my application?

No. However, the ECO reviews how ministers handle requests for reviews and investigations, and flags criticisms in our reports to the Legislature.

Ministries’ Statements of Environmental Values

What are Statements of Environmental Values?

Each of the ministries subject to the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) is required to develop a Statement of Environmental Values (SEV). A ministry’s SEV guides the minister and ministry staff when they make decisions about policies, acts, regulations or instruments that might affect the environment.

Each SEV should explain:

  • How the ministry will consider the environment when it makes environmentally significant decisions;
  • How the ministry will apply the purposes of the EBR when it makes environmentally significant decisions; and
  • How the ministry will integrate its environmental values with social, economic and scientific considerations when it makes environmentally significant decisions.

Each minister also makes commitments in his or her ministry’s SEV that are specific to the work of that particular ministry. The ECO monitors and reports on ministry compliance with the obligation to consider their SEVs when making decisions that may have a significant effect on the environment. Visit the Environmental Registry to view the ministries’ SEVs online.

How can I use SEVs?

You can refer to the SEVs when you are drafting comments on proposals on the Environmental Registry, or preparing applications for investigation and review. You can also comment on whether a Registry proposal or decision reflects the goals of the EBR and is consistent with the ministry’s SEV.

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