A recent ruling by a Federal Court judge has determined that the federal government’s decision to classify plastic items as toxic was both “unreasonable and unconstitutional.” In the decision released on Thursday, Justice Angela Furlanetto argued that categorizing all plastic manufactured items under a blanket toxicity label was overly broad and lacked a reasonable basis.
Justice Furlanetto’s ruling came in response to a case brought forward by major industrial players in the plastics industry, including Dow Chemical, Imperial Oil, and Nova Chemicals. They contended that the government had not presented sufficient scientific evidence to justify the regulatory measures.
Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault stated that the federal government is reviewing the decision and is considering the possibility of an appeal. He emphasized the strong public demand for action to combat plastic pollution.
The move to classify plastic items as toxic was a pivotal step that allowed the government to proceed with the planned ban on select single-use plastic items, set to take effect on December 20. These regulations are designed to prohibit the sale of plastic checkout bags, cutlery, food service ware, stir sticks, and straws in Canada.
Lindsay Beck, a lawyer representing environmental groups that intervened in the case, expressed disappointment with the ruling, emphasizing the urgent need to address plastic pollution as a major environmental crisis.
Regulating waste management generally falls under provincial jurisdiction. The federal government has the authority to regulate substances for environmental protection if they are classified as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. However, Justice Furlanetto argued that the broad inclusion of plastics in the toxic substance category exceeded the Act’s provisions.
The judge’s ruling also raised concerns about the balance of federalism, as it was not limited to plastics that had the potential to harm the environment.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz urged the federal government not to appeal the decision, characterizing the initial addition of plastics to the toxic substance list as an example of “federal overreach.”
The case specifically addressed an order-in-council that originally placed plastic manufactured items on the toxic substance list, later solidified into law with the passage of Bill S-5 in June. While Ottawa argued that the judge’s decision would not impact the single-use plastics ban due to the passage of S-5, Beck contended that by invalidating the order-in-council, the judge effectively rejected the government’s rationale for adding plastics to the toxic substance list under S-5.