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82% of Canadians urging government action to tackle plastic pollution: CBC poll

82% of Canadians urging government action to tackle plastic pollution: CBC poll


Nine out of 10 respondents to a survey about the impact of plastic waste on the environment say they are concerned or very concerned about the problem, and 82 per cent say they believe that government should be doing more to tackle it.

The Angus Reid Forum conducted a representative online survey of 1,500 Canadians from March 14 to 17 for CBC’s Marketplace about what they thought about plastic pollution, over-packaged products, and the government’s strategy on the issue. (A randomized sample of this size would yield a margin of error of +/- 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.) 

The results suggest the majority of Canadians are concerned about plastic, believe that individuals and businesses have a responsibility to reduce it, but also feel strongly that not enough is being done by government to address the issue.

Federal strategy promised

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said plastic packaging is on the federal government’s radar.

“Wait till June, that’s when we’re coming out with our strategy with the provinces and territories,” she said in an interview with Marketplace.

“We’ve got to go through a proper process with this, working with industry, working with cities, everyone needs to be part of it.”

A Marketplace poll suggests that more than eight in 10 Canadians believe that government should be doing more to tackle the problem of plastic waste. (David MacIntosh/ CBC News)

While McKenna said that “there’s a role for bans” on certain types of plastics, she stopped short of committing to the types of bans other jurisdictions have introduced. Just last month, the European Union approved a ban on 10 types of single-use plastics, including straws, cutlery and styrofoam cups to come into effect in 2021.

“It’s not just about banning, because I think there’s a lot of focus on banning,” McKenna said.

“I think we need to focus more on the circular economy.”

In a circular economy, the thinking goes, packaging would be reused or repurposed.

A Marketplace viewer sent in an image of plastic wrapped disposable forks and straws from a Subway restaurant. The chain says it’s transitioning to paper straws. (David MacIntosh/CBC News)

Marketplace commissioned the poll after hearing from viewers who sent in pictures of plastic packaging that they found to be excessive, including packaging on fresh fruit and vegetables, hardware items, toys and clothing.

Some other examples included plastic-wrapped disposable straws and forks given out at Subway restaurants.

When Marketplace reached out to some of the companies that created or sold the packaged goods, only Subway shared plans to change the packaging, saying that the sandwich chain is in the process of switching to paper straws this year. It did not outline any plans to move away from the plastic-wrapped disposable cutlery.

Cannabis packaging under scrutiny

Some viewers pointed to the large amount of plastic used to distribute small amounts of legal cannabis, just the latest product to come under scrutiny.

Marketplace viewers contacted the show to express their concern about the amount of plastic used to package legal cannabis. (David MacIntosh/CBC News)

Marketplace showed some examples of cannabis packaging to Adria Vasil, who wrote the Ecoholic series of books and writes a regular column on green living. The way cannabis is packaged — in non-recyclable plastic plastic bags, clam-shell packages or in plastic bags inside sealed jars or boxes — represents a missed opportunity by the manufacturers and the province of Ontario, she said. 

“They could have designed this from the ground up to be green, to be compatible with the province’s recycling system, and instead, they just completely fell asleep at the switch.” 

The Ontario Cannabis Store pointed out that all cannabis packaging has to be tamper-proof and child-resistant. Even so, Vasil says she’s disappointed more thought wasn’t given to environmentally friendly packaging.

Watch: Marketplace showed some of the examples of cannabis packaging to environmental commentator Adria Vasil.

Author Adria Vasil demonstrates some of the excess and non-recyclable plastic packaging that can be found on products sold online at the Ontario Cannabis Store. 0:59

The results of the survey indicate companies may need to think twice about how much plastic packaging they use in the future or run the risk of losing sales.

More than half of the 1,500 respondents said they would not buy certain products if they felt the packaging was excessive.

McKenna said businesses have a big role to play in tackling plastic pollution.

“We need companies to be more responsible,” she said.

“We have got a huge problem, and we all have to be acting together, right now.”  

Shoppers say few neighbourhood options

Despite widespread use of municipal blue bin programs, just 11 per cent of the plastic used in Canada is actually recycled. The rest is either sent to landfill, incinerated — resulting in harmful emissions — or discarded in the environment.

And although the polling suggests that three-quarters of Canadians accept that it’s their responsibility, too, to reduce plastic, a majority say they find it difficult to do so.

“Zero-waste” or “low-waste” grocery stores have opened in cities such as Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, but just 39 per cent of Canadians polled said they knew of places they could shop for products without much plastic packaging in their neighbourhood.

“It’s a really big concern,” said Michelle Genttner, co-owner of Unboxed Market, a zero-waste grocery store in Toronto that sells produce, meat, bulk groceries, household goods and even has a hot table with ready-to-eat food free from plastic packaging. Consumers bring their own containers. 

“For those people, I would say look to your farmers markets, go to your stores, ask the questions.”



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Telus scores win at Supreme Court over customer rights to join class action suits

Telus scores win at Supreme Court over customer rights to join class action suits


Telus has scored a victory at the Supreme Court of Canada, which says its business customers are contractually prevented from joining class action suits filed on behalf of individual consumers.

A majority of judges in the 4-3 decision ruled an Ontario judge erred in allowing Avraham Wellman to be included in a class action case against Telus even though he was a business customer of its mobile phone service.

Telus had argued Ontario’s consumer protection law didn’t apply to business customers like Wellman and he had to abide by his contract’s provisions for deciding disputes outside of the court system, through arbitration.

Four judges at Canada’s top court agreed with Telus, but three others dissented.

The ruling affirms that Ontario’s Consumer Protection Act overrides the arbitration provisions of Telus service contracts, but the Arbitration Act doesn’t give the same opportunity for business customers

The case went to Canada’s top court after Telus appealed an Ontario judge’s ruling that said both individual consumer and business customers could be included in the class action case because it was unreasonable to separate the two groups.



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Bill Blair coy about handgun ban as time for legislative action runs down

Bill Blair coy about handgun ban as time for legislative action runs down


Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair was non-committal Wednesday about delivering a government-commissioned report on a handgun ban during this parliamentary session.

Blair also suggested the Liberals could revisit this issue if the government is re-elected in the fall.

“Canadians expect us to take the time to do it right and I’ve been doing my very best to take that time,” the former top Toronto cop told a Senate committee studying Bill C-71 Wednesday.

“As everyone can appreciate, this is a very complex discussion. We’ve looked at a number of ways we can maintain public safety but my job was also … and it’s an important caveat that the prime minister put on my mandate … to conduct that examination in a way that was also respectful of those Canadians who do responsibly own those firearms.”

Blair said he and his department are still engaged in an “exhaustive examination” of handguns in Canada. Blair initially said he would finish his consultations on the subject by the end of 2018.

When asked by Independent Sen. Marilou McPhedran if the government’s promised report would be made public by the time Parliament rises at the end of June, Blair hedged.

“As quick as I’m able, ma’am, but I can’t give you a time,” he said.

Bill C-71 is considered by many gun control advocates to be a relatively modest set of reforms to firearms law. Blair suggested Wednesday that if the Liberal government can’t do more on the firearms file this year, he’ll try again later. McPhedran said that suggestion was based on an “interesting assumption” — that the Liberals will win the fall federal election.

“It’s not an assumption, it’s an intent,” Blair said to McPhedran.

“If I can’t get it done now, I’ll come back and do it later. I know there are people who are saying, ‘Just do it quickly,’ but frankly I think we should do it right.”

When asked about the minister’s comments, a spokesperson for Blair said: “The government is still planning on releasing the report early 2019.”

The chances of the government introducing and passing new gun legislation at this late stage of the parliamentary process — with only eight weeks left on the calendar before Parliament rises for its summer break — is next to non-existent.

Legislation typically takes months to move through the House of Commons and Senate. Bill C-71, for example, was introduced more than a year ago and is still being studied by the upper house.

Heidi Rathjen, a gun control activist and survivor of the 1989 Polytechnique massacre, said anything less than a law introducing a handgun ban in the government’s current mandate would amount to a broken promise.

It would be a betrayal for them to simply kick this can down the road and promise something else, again, in the next election campaign.– Heidi Rathjen

The 2015 Liberal election platform included a commitment “to take action to get handguns and assault weapons off our streets.”

“They are breaking their word to Canadians. It would be a betrayal for them to simply kick this can down the road and promise something else, again, in the next election campaign,” Rathjen said.

“The Liberals, historically, have been in favour of gun control and now they’re just living in fear of the gun lobby and a small but very well-organized, very aggressive group of voters who speak of gun ‘rights.’ There is no right to own a gun in this country.

“It’s extremely discouraging. This government has been dragging its feet. Bill C-71 was only tabled last March and even that’s weak and the bare minimum of what the Liberals should do.”

To that end, McPhedran has suggested Bill C-71 should be amended to classify all handguns as “prohibited” firearms — the most restrictive classification for a firearm in Canada’s three-tier system, a move that would make tens of thousands of licensed owners ineligible and all but dismantle the existing legal supply chain.

“A bird in the hand, minister,” she said.

C-71 includes enhanced background checks for anyone applying for a Possession and Acquisition License (PAL) or a restricted PAL, mandatory record-keeping for firearms retailers, changes to the authorization to transport (ATT) rules, and the reclassification of two types of firearms.

Any would-be gun owner in Canada already has to submit to an extensive background check and complete a training course.

The Liberal government has faced mounting pressure from gun control groups to take action on the firearms file after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern implemented a sweeping ban on so-called “military-style” semiautomatic firearms only days after a deadly mosque shooting in Christchurch.

“New Zealand shows us that if there’s political will, political courage, political leadership, a government can move extremely quickly to take action when its comes to protecting public safety,” Rathjen said.

But Blair said the Liberal government is not interested in implementing a handgun ban in such a short span of time.

“I think it’s important, before we make a decision on such an important issue of public policy and public safety, we make ourselves as well-informed as possible.”

Gun rights advocates maintain targeting legal firearms owners, through either C-71 or a potential ban, is the wrong approach given that much of the gun-related crime in this country is perpetrated by criminals using handguns smuggled from the U.S.

“The lion’s share of firearms homicide is committed by illegal gun owners. No methodologically valid study has been able to find evidence that stricter gun laws, or even gun bans, have reduced general homicide rates or spousal homicide rates,” said Gary Mauser, a professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University and a noted gun rights advocate.

Out of all the violent gun crimes in 2017 in Canada, 59 per cent involved a handgun, 18 per cent involved a rifle or a shotgun, 6 per cent involved a fully automatic firearm, sawed-off rifle or shotgun and 17 per cent involved a firearm-like weapon or an unknown type of firearm, according to data from StatsCan.



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