Goal 16: Promote a fair and accessible justice system, enforce environmental laws, and manage impacts
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Why this goal is important
This Goal focuses on the essential role of strong institutions in solving the interconnected challenges of sustainable development—especially the rule of law, a fair and accessible justice system, effectively and impartially enforcing environmental laws, and managing the impacts of proposed development projects. This perspective was drawn from the SDG Global Indicator Framework targets:
- 16.3: Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all
- 16.7: Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels
- 16.b: Promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development
All three branches of government (the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary) that make up representative democracy contribute to sustainable development. Through representative government, the legislative branch ensures that all citizens have a voice in shaping the law and debating its effects on the environment, economy and society. The executive branch develops new policies, regulations, as well as funding and enforcement programs to advance the sustainable development goals. The judiciary interprets legislation and works to ensure that laws are impartially applied and enforced. Finally, the executive and the judiciary work together to uphold the rule of law, a fundamental value of Canadian society as acknowledged in the preamble to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
How the Government of Canada contributes
The Government of Canada supports transparent, accountable and inclusive institutions, both domestically and internationally. It does this through legislation and regulatory requirements that contribute to the rule of law, a fair and accessible justice system, evidence-based decision making, and strong enforcement, reporting, and oversight.
The Department of Justice Act outlines three roles for the Minister of Justice: ensuring that the administration of public affairs is in accordance with the law; overseeing all matters relating to the administration of justice within federal jurisdiction; and providing legal advisory, litigation and legislative services to government departments and agencies. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada also has the mandate to address systemic discrimination and the overrepresentation of Black and racialized Canadians and Indigenous Peoples in the criminal justice system and ensure that all people living in Canada have access to fair and just treatment. This includes work to continue developing an Indigenous Justice Strategy and to develop Canada's Black Justice Strategy.
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) is a national, independent, and accountable prosecuting authority whose main objective is to prosecute cases under federal jurisdiction in a manner that is fair and free from any improper influence. In the three Territories, PPSC also prosecutes all criminal offences under the Criminal Code.
The Law Commission of Canada was revived in 2021. As a federally mandated law reform agency, the Commission will provide independent advice on improvements, modernization and reform that will ensure a just legal system, to allow the role of law to be reconsidered when necessary and to study the impact of the law on communities and individuals.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is taking action to modernize itself through its strategy “Vision150 and Beyond.” The strategy sets out an ambitious plan to enhance and modernize critical aspects of the RCMP and its culture. Current focus is on advancing five priority areas: 1) ensuring a safe, equitable workplace; 2) addressing systemic racism; 3) advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples; 4) supporting modern policing; and 5) improving accountability, transparency and conduct.
Enforcing environmental legislation and regulations is a critical component of the government's sustainable development activities. Key federal departments responsible for enforcement include Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Transport Canada, whereas the PPSC is responsible for prosecuting offences under a number of environmental statutes. In cases where offenders are convicted of an environmental crime, sentenced offenders may be subject to a fine or a court order.
The federal government also promotes sustainable development by predicting and mitigating the effects of proposed development projects, while also considering ways to enhance positive effects. The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) conducts and administers high-quality assessments that consider the economic, social, health and environmental impacts of designated projects—both positive and negative. The Agency is also placing greater emphasis on considering Indigenous Knowledge and perspectives alongside western science in each assessment.
The Canada Energy Regulator (CER) ensures that pipeline, power line and offshore renewable energy projects are constructed, operated and abandoned in a safe and secure manner to protect people and the environment. Designated projects under the Canadian Energy Regulator Act are subject to a single, integrated impact assessment led by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada with the support of the CER. The Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act also specifically commit the Government of Canada to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples during the assessment of designated projects.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is Canada's sole lifecycle regulator for the use of nuclear energy and materials. It regulates to protect the health, safety, security of people and the environment under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act. Designated projects related to nuclear facilities and activities are subject to a single, integrated impact assessment led by the IAAC with CNSC providing support. For all nuclear designated projects that require an impact assessment, the CNSC in collaboration with the IAAC are committed to meaningful consultation and engagement with Indigenous Nations and communities that is consistent with the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples.
In addition to environmental and impact assessments, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada conducts regional assessments and strategic assessments under the Impact Assessment Act. Regional assessments go beyond the scale of project-specific assessments by analyzing the effects of multiple current and anticipated physical activities in a specific region. Meanwhile, strategic assessments examine the Government of Canada's existing or proposed policies, plans, or programs relevant to impact assessment. Both regional and strategic assessments can help inform the planning and management of cumulative effects (cases where the combined effects of multiple projects exceeds the effects of each project considered on their own).
The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD), on behalf of the Auditor General of Canada, promotes transparency and accountability by assessing the performance of government programs, and providing parliamentarians with objective, independent analysis and recommendations. Under the Federal Sustainable Development Act, the CESD must review and comment on draft federal sustainable development strategies, as well as progress reports on their implementation. As part of an agreement of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions, the CESD also will regularly conduct audits related to Canada's performance in achieving the 2030 Agenda. This includes the 2018 audit report Canada's Preparedness to Implement the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, and the 2021 audit report Implementing the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.
Canada supports the SDG 16 objectives of peace, justice and inclusion through several ways. These include its collaboration with international organizations such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, its participation in international fora such as the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, its multilateral treaty negotiations, and its contributions to international assistance that are guided by Canada's Feminist International Assistance Policy. This work includes promoting and protecting human rights; increasing equitable access to a functioning justice system; enhancing participation in public life; and ensuring that public services work for everyone.
Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA Plus) and the Impact Assessment Act
The Impact Assessment Act requires Gender-Based Analysis (GBA) Plus for projects subject to the Act. The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada and project proponents must conduct GBA Plus at each stage of the assessment, including early planning, impact assessment, decision making, and post-decision phases. GBA Plus provides a framework and a set of analytical questions to guide an impact assessment. It is used to identify who is impacted by a project, and assesses how people may experience impacts differently in order to improve project design and develop mitigation measures that address different impacts. Applying GBA Plus to impact assessments helps practitioners and decision makers understand, describe, and mitigate adverse impacts on diverse populations.
Indigenous Knowledge in environmental research
First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities each have a distinct way of describing their knowledge. While, knowledge-holders are the only people who can truly define Indigenous Knowledge for their communities, many international agencies and instruments have addressed Indigenous Knowledge, including the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Many sections of the Declaration work together to protect Indigenous Knowledge. The Declaration recognizes “that respect for Indigenous Knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to sustainable and fair development and proper management of the environment.” Canada is obliged to respect and protect the rights articulated in the Declaration.
Indigenous Knowledge is defined in article 31 of the Declaration as: the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, Traditional Knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. Indigenous Peoples also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, Traditional Knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions. Guides such as the First Nations Principles of ownership, control, access, and possession (OCAP®) can be used to ensure that Indigenous Peoples have more control over their intellectual property.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act mandates Canada to implement the Declaration in cooperation with Indigenous Peoples in a whole-of-government approach. Indigenous Knowledge helps federal organizations improve their understanding of Indigenous worldviews, Indigenous cultures, the environment, issues affecting the environment, impacts those issues are having now and in the future, and ways to address them. The Government of Canada is working to renew its relationship with Indigenous Peoples based on a recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership. This work includes collaborating with Indigenous Knowledge Holders on research projects. Working with Indigenous partners, the Government of Canada is beginning to understand the importance of Indigenous Knowledge systems that have been handed down since time immemorial. The Government of Canada will continue to collaborate with Indigenous partners and Indigenous Knowledge Holders to ensure that Indigenous Knowledge systems are supported and considered in all stages of environmental research and monitoring activities.
Stakeholder perspective: Cutthroat Trout in the Porcupine Hills Environmental Rehabilitation Project
The Porcupine Hills are a landform consisting of a montane ecoregion of outlying hills, located in southwestern Alberta near the town of Claresholm. Historically, Trout Creek, a stream that originates from these hills, provided valuable coldwater habitat for Westslope Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkiilewisi) and Bull Trout (Salvelinus confluentus). However, a range of activities including industrial, agricultural, and recreational land uses within the region, along with natural disturbances, have resulted in changes to how water flows across the landscape and in the creeks which have resulted in habitat degradation and fragmentation.
Financially supported by the Government of Canada's Environmental Damages Fund, Trout Unlimited Canada undertook a restoration program that improved aquatic and riparian habitat in the Trout Creek watershed and assisted in the recovery of Westslope Cutthroat Trout. Trout Unlimited Canada worked with stakeholder groups, resource managers and community members to implement a successful rehabilitation program and increased public awareness of the threats facing native trout populations and measures to address them.
Sources: Environment and Climate Change Canada and Trout Unlimited Canada