Ecojustice report: Environmental Law Compliance suffers from a lack of Open Data

| December 12, 2011

Last week, at climate action talks in Durban, Environment Minister Peter Kent complained of a "lack of commitment" on the part of other countries. However, a new Ecojustice report puts Canada's own commitment into serious question with respect to environmental law enforcement.

Most disconcerting to us at CIPPIC, the author of the report, Will Amos, describes the available compliance information on environmental protection laws as a "hodge podge of incomplete data". Many of the key findings in the report point to a critical failure of the government to comply with principles of open government and open data . In fact, even though the Canadian federal government emphasized a commitment to open government in September and agreed to join the Open Government Partnership (which it has not yet done), many of the problems to which EcoJostice points directly relate to non-compliance with this partnership's Open Government Declaration (which Canada still has not yet signed):

  • Declaration: We commit to promoting increased access to information and disclosure about governmental activities at every level of government. We commit to increasing our efforts to systematically collect and publish data on government spending and performance for essential public services and activities.
  • Ecojustice: The Canada Wildlife Act and Canada Shipping Act contain no legal obligation to report enforcement activity, and no information is disclosed voluntarily. Industry compliance rates across all environmental laws are also not made public.
  • Declaration: We commit to pro-actively provide high-value information, including raw data, in a timely manner.
  • Ecojustice: The public release of annual reports (containing environmental enforcement information) under different laws have been chronically late. On at least one occasion, this has caused environmental groups to bring a successful lawsuit for failure to comply with annual reporting rules.
  • Declaration: [We commit to provide data] in formats that the public can easily locate, understand and use, and in formats that facilitate reuse.
  • Ecojustice: Enforcement data under different federal environmental laws is hard to access because it is gathered using inconsistent methods. This unnecessarily complicates the comparison and analysis of enforcement data, diminishing the public’s ability to hold government accountable and to assess the risks to environmental and human health.
This unfortunate state of affairs highlights the need for Canada to step up its game on open and tranparent government. In fact, Ecojustice's first recommendation is for the government to establish a online database with full disclosure of compliance and enforcement, akin to the U.S. Environmental and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database.  This U.S. database, which is openly available to everyone on the internet, is available through the U.S. open data portal at
While Canada's federal government recently and commendably expanded Canada's open data portal at, it could do much more to increase transparency by further increasing the number of datasets of import to citizens.  The first step to accountability -- on the part of governments and would-be environmental offenders -- is reliable information that citizens can easily access and assess.
Ecojustice Report: