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The Precautionary Principle in Canada: The First Decade

December 2002

Citation: ELR 11407

Author: Juli Abouchar

In June 2001, the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada cited the precautionary principle1 as a principle of international law and policy and concluded that municipal power to regulate pesticides is consistent with the principle.2 This decision marked a decade of growth for the precautionary principle in Canada.

The precautionary principle states that where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.3 Globally, the earliest explicit reference to the precautionary principle is found in the "Vorsorgenprinzip" of West German legislation of the early 1970s.4 The earliest international agreement to use an explicit reference to the precautionary principle is the 1985 Vienna Convention on Ozone Depleting Substances wherein parties agree to take "precautionary measures."5 It was first given specifics for implementation in the Ministerial Declaration of the Second International Conference on the Protection of the North Sea issued in London in November 1987.6 Canada successfully "advocated inclusion of the precautionary principle" during the Bergen Conference negotiations in 1990.7 In the late 1980s and early 1990s, while the principle was being endorsed in international agreements,8 seeds of precaution were also being planted in Canadian judicial decisions.

Ms. Abouchar received her Bachelor of Science in Earth Science at Waterloo University in Waterloo, Canada; her Bachelor of Common Law and Bachelor of Civil Law at McGill University in Montreal, Canada; and her L.L.M. in Environmental Law at the University of London in London, England. Currently she is a Barrister and Solicitor at Birchall Northey in Toronto. She is also Lecturer in Environmental Law at Ryerson University in Toronto. Substantive portions of this Article were previously published in Implementation of the Precautionary Principle in Canada, in REINTERPRETING THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE (Tim O'Riordon et al. eds., 2001). Ms. Abouchar is grateful for the assistance of Tracy Richards in the preparation of this Article.

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