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Activities subject to permit

Which activities require an environmental permit and how are they classified for such purposes?

Environmental permitting is primarily conducted at the provincial level, although the federal government regulates through a permitting regime the international and interprovincial movement of dangerous goods and hazardous wastes, as well as certain activities exclusively within its jurisdiction (eg, activities in Arctic waters and nuclear energy). All provinces have created permitting regimes covering a wide range of activities, including:

  • water taking;
  • potable water treatment and distribution;
  • wastewater treatment;
  • discharges to the air and water;
  • species at risk; and
  • waste management. 

All permits have the force of law and compliance with their terms and conditions is typically a focus for regulators.

Issuing authority

Which authority issues permits?

The issuing authorities are typically:

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada;
  • the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment;
  • Alberta Environment and Parks;
  • the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment;
  • the Manitoba Department of Conservation and Water Stewardship;
  • the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change;
  • the Quebec Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change;
  • the New Brunswick Department of Environment and Local Government;
  • Nova Scotia Environment;
  • the Prince Edward Island Department of Environment, Labour and Justice; and
  • the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Environment and Conservation.

However, each jurisdiction has specialised permitting authorities.


What are the procedural and documentary requirements to obtain a permit?

Procedural and documentary requirements range widely across jurisdictions. Most federal and provincial regulators are moving towards e-filing regimes.


Do any permit fees apply?

Yes, typically, there are fees associated with permit applications.

Validity period and renewal

What is the validity period for permits and how can they be renewed?

Each jurisdiction is different with regard to the validity period of permits. Some jurisdictions (eg, Ontario) impose no time limit on many types of environmental permit.


Can permits be transferred? If so, what procedure applies?

Typically, permits can be transferred. In many cases, only notice of a sale or assignment is required, but there are circumstances where pre-approval is required.


Are permit decisions subject to appeal? If so, what procedure applies?

Typically, permit decisions may be appealed to specialised independent environmental tribunals, which are governed by the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness.


What are the consequences of violating permit rules and decisions?

Non-compliance with a permit may lead to:

  • prosecution;
  • the imposition of an administrative order requiring corrective action; or
  • the permit’s suspension or cancellation.

Environmental impact assessments

Projects subject to assessment

What projects require a preliminary environmental impact assessment?

The federal government and all provinces have created environmental impact assessment (EIA) regimes. The application of EIA legislation to specific projects varies widely among jurisdictions. At the federal level, an EIA is required only for designated projects – primarily, large projects in the resource sector, such as pipelines and mines. In some provinces, an EIA is required only for government-sponsored or funded projects.

Scope of assessment

What environmental factors and risks fall within the scope of the impact assessment report?

Typically, the environmental factors to be assessed include natural, social, cultural and economic impacts. The scope of an EIA report is usually fixed at a preliminary stage of the process.


Who conducts assessments?

Applicants usually conduct assessments, although there are some regimes where a government agency must do so.


Are the results of impact assessments publicly available?



Can the results of an impact assessment be contested? If so, what procedure applies?

Typically, results can be contested before specialised tribunals and hearing panels. The Canadian courts have also shown a willingness to judicially review EIA decisions.

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