Photo by Jenna Lee on Unsplash

Within the last decade, both honeybee and wild bee populations have declined, often in a suddenly and dramatically. Though there seems to be no single cause of these die-offs, pesticide use is widely considered to be a significant factor. While there are many things we can do as individuals to help bees in our own backyards – we can plant bee-friendly gardens or provide bee houses as habitat for solitary bee species – the future of bees and other pollinators will remain uncertain as long as widespread use of pesticides in agriculture threatens their health and survival. Bigger changes in industry and policy are needed to ensure a future for our pollinators. That’s where organizations like Ecojustice shine.

Ecojustice is an environmental law charity that uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment for all. They have won over 89 cases, including protecting wild salmon from piscine reovirus from farmed Atlantic salmon, ensuring the proper implementation of Ontario’s Endangered Species Act for 37 endangered species, and represented a grassroots environmental group, Transition Initiative Kenora, which contributed to the cancellation of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline.

Ecojustice also went to federal court in November 2018 to fight for some smaller animals – the bees. Pesticide toxicity is widely considered to be a significant factor in the decline of bee species within the last decade. Despite these alarming die-offs, Canada continues to allow the use of certain pesticides already banned in other countries because of the danger they pose to pollinators and other animals. The main class of pesticides is known as neonicotinoids or neonics.

Pesticide use in Canada is regulated by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). In August of 2018, PMRA proposed the eventual phase-out of two neonicotinoid pesticides due to the risk they pose to “non-target” species, including the fish, birds, and other insects that may consume the treated plants. However, the PMRA also announced they would allow the pesticides to continue to be used until December 31, 2020.

Pesticide use in Canada should be informed a piece of federal legislation known as the Pest Control Products Act, which requires the PMRA to have “reasonable certainty” that pesticides will not cause environmental harm before they are registered for use

Ecojustice, representing Wilderness Committee, Ontario Nature, David Suzuki Foundation and Friends of the Earth, filed a lawsuit in 2016 asserting that PMRA had failed to ensure it had the scientific evidence necessary to determine pollinator and environmental risks of neonics, before permitting the use of these chemicals – an “approve first, study the science later” approach that went against the Pest Control Products Act. Meanwhile, other countries have already decided that the risk of neonics to pollinators is too great. The European Union established a ban on neonicotinoid use in April 2018, and the city of Montreal has banned the use of neonics within city limits.

In November 2018, Ecojustice put out a call for support and received over 500 letters of support from citizens across Canada. Unfortunately, in April 2019, Ecojustice received notice that the lawsuit was not successful, based on “mootness grounds” related to the timing of the case. The courts did not make any findings as to whether PMRA is properly adhering to the Pest Control Products Act. However, despite this setback, Ecojustice has brought attention to an issue that will require more action from Canadians who want to fight for a sustainable future.

Humans rely on bees more than we realize. More than just the source of the honey we use to sweeten our tea, bees are responsible for pollinating 170 000 different plant species. In addition to this substantial contribution to biodiversity, bees are also responsible for most of what ends up on our dinner plate. The UN Environment estimates that out of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees.

In 2015, the United Nations created 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)s that address everything from zero hunger to sustainable use of ecosystems. By promoting food security, and preserving biodiversity, it’s clear that protecting bees is a critical part of planning for a sustainable future. Ecojustice plays an important role in ensuring Canada follows its own legislation to protect our pollinators now and in the future.