Environmental permitting

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In Canada, environmental law is a jurisdiction shared by the federal government, the provincial and territorial governments, as well as local municipal governments.[1] The federal government focuses on general and national areas of concern and the provincial and municipal governments focus on more regional matters. As the environment is both a national and regional matter, there is often overlap in the environmental permitting system between federal and provincial legislation. Permits, or certificates of approval, are documents that grant a group or individual legal permission to carry out an activity for a specified period of time.[2]

Provincial/Territorial Environmental Permitting Jurisdictions

  • Ontario
  • Québec
  • British Columbia
  • Alberta
  • Manitoba
  • Saskatchewan
  • Nova Scotia
  • New Brunswick
  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Northwest Territories
  • Nunavut
  • Yukon

Consequences of Missing Permits

It is the company's responsibility to ensure that the activities being undertaken during a project have the appropriate permits in place before the activity begins. If a project is missing a permit, or is found to not be in compliance with their permit conditions, there are typically three stages of enforcement – voluntary abatement, mandatory rectification, and prosecution and penalties.[1] These corrective actions are further divided into the duration of time until compliance is required – it may be several weeks or a stop work order could be issued until compliance is met. As with many legal requirements, claiming ignorance of the permit requirement is not a defence. It is the project manager’s responsibility to ensure that the appropriate permits are in place.

How to Determine Permit Requirements

Perhaps the most difficult part of the environmental permitting process, the first step of the process is to determine the permitting requirements based on the location of the project and the type of activities occurring. As permits are granted by different agencies and levels of government it can be difficult to compile a complete list of the permits required for the project. The Government of Canada’s Canada Business Network website contains a permits and licenses search engine, providing some basic information on permit requirements. After a general idea of the permitting requirements has been obtained, the local municipalities and provincial offices should be contacted to ensure that all required permitting has been acquired.

Figure 1: Canada Business Network permits and licenses search results for the Land Use Permit for a mining or quarrying business located in Timmins, ON [3]

Using the Canada Business Network Permits and Licenses Search Engine

To begin the search, enter the location of the project. The project location can be entered as a city, municipality or First Nation.

Next, enter the type of business. Typing mining returns two options: Mining and quarrying (except oil and gas) and Support activities for mining and oil and gas extraction. In most cases the first option will be selected.

At this point the search will return all the potentially required permits for that type of business in the stated business location. The permits are divided into the following categories and sub-categories :[3]

  • Starting or managing a business (general)
    • Recruiting or hiring workers
    • Registering your business
  • Serving, selling, exporting, importing
    • Exporting or importing goods, animals or plants
  • Construction, development and zoning
    • Constructing roads or railways, including road cuts
    • Constructing, renovating, demolishing or moving buildings
  • Development, including environmental assessments and zoning
    • Excavation, grading and soil removal
  • Erecting temporary structures (tents, trailers, hoardings)
  • Using roads, sidewalks, and public facilities
    • Closing or obstructing or changing access to a street, road or highway
    • Municipal or city property use, including public halls and parks
    • Parking
  • Vehicles, watercraft and aircraft
    • Owning or operating road vehicles, off-road or farm vehicles
    • Airport operations and other uses of airport space
  • Manufacturing or processing food or goods
    • Manufacturing or processing (other than food), including plants and facilities
  • Business and professional services
    • Passenger transportation services (taxi, bus, rail)
    • Telecommunications and broadcasting, including spectrum licensing
  • Dangerous goods and waste
    • Handling explosives, fireworks, firearms, pesticides, dangerous substances, etc.
    • Generating or storing waste
    • Transporting waste or dangerous goods
  • Natural resources
    • Mining, quarrying or extracting materials
    • Working on or near Crown, Aboriginal, Public or protected lands
    • Gas or oil pipelines, processing and storage
    • Bulk water
    • Working or doing business in a national or provincial park
    • Conducting scientific research (wildlife, archaeology) or affecting species at risk

Within each sub-category there will be a number of permits. There is an option to select all or specific sub-categories. After selecting a sub-category, the permits are further divided into federal and provincial categories. Selecting the permit of interest will return a result as seen in Figure 1.

The initial paragraph briefly outlines when the permit is applicable. The cost, renewal period, waiting period and inspection requirements are also provided for each permit. The permit also provides contact information for the regulating organization.

Another important feature of the search engine is the Briefcase feature, which can be seen at the bottom of Figure 1, “add to briefcase”. This feature allows for all the permits of interest to be collected in the “briefcase” for later reference and compilation.

Federal Permit Requirements

In Canada, regulating natural resource extraction is largely the responsibility of the individual provinces and territories. However, the federal government has additional legislation and regulations that apply to most mining projects. When considering permitting requirements for a new mining project, the following legislation must be considered: [4]

  • Canadian Environmental Protection Act, including the Chemicals Management Plan and Interprovincial Movement of Hazardous Waste Regulations
  • Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
  • Fisheries Act, including the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations
  • Navigable Waters Protection Act/Navigation Protection Act
  • Species at Risk Act
  • Migratory Birds Convention Act
  • Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act
  • Explosives Act

The following are several environmental permit requirements addressed under some of the previously listed legislative acts.

Environmental Assessment

Table 1: Environmental Assessment Approval Summary
Time: Comprehensive study: 1 year

Review panel: 2 years

Cost: Not specified
Study Requirements: Detailed study conducted by competent specialists
Additional Resources: Basics of Environmental Assessment


General Information

For all mining projects, an environmental assessment is required to determine the appropriate environmental permits. An environmental assessment is a study that aims to identify, predict and mitigate any potential environmental impacts of a proposed project. Mining projects inherently pose a risk to the environment. In particular, pollution issues can arise due to waste rock and tailings management. An environmental assessment should be completed as early as possible in the planning stage of a project to ensure that identified mitigating environmental measures can be incorporated into the detailed mine plan. The environmental assessment is intended to be used as a decision-making tool for later stages of the project. [5]

For environmental assessments, the federal government has jurisdiction over projects that involve federal support as well as projects that may affect an area of federal responsibility or cause transboundary environmental effects.[6] There are specific triggers in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act that determine whether a project must undertake a federal environmental assessment. [7] The Minister of the Environment can also require specific project to perform an environmental assessment based on public concern. [5]

Table 2 summarizes the purpose of an environmental assessment as well as the benefits it can provide to the project, as specified on the Government of Canada webpage for environmental assessments.

Table 2: Objectives of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 [5]
Purpose Benefits
  • Protect components of the environment that are within federal legislative authority from significant adverse environmental effects
  • Ensure that proposed projects are considered and carried out in a careful and precautionary manner
  • Promote cooperation and coordination between federal and provincial governments
  • Promote communication and cooperation with Aboriginal peoples
  • Ensure that opportunities are provided for meaningful public participation
  • Ensure that environmental assessments are completed in a timely manner
  • Promote sustainable development in order to achieve or maintain a healthy environment and a healthy economy
  • Encourage the further studies of the cumulative effects of physical activities in a region
  • Avoidance or minimization of adverse environmental effects
  • Opportunities for public participation and Aboriginal consultation
  • Increased protection of human health
  • Reduced project costs and delays
  • Reduced risks of environmental harm or disasters
  • Increased government accountability and harmonization
  • Lessened probability of transboundary environmental effects
  • Informed decisions that contribute to responsible development of natural resources

Extensive technical work must be carried out for an environmental assessment. Difficulty is often encountered when collecting data about environmental systems in the area of the project as they can be very complex. Past environmental studies must be taken into account in the environmental assessment. Environmental models must be created and the impact of carrying out the project activities assessed.

One of the key aspects of environmental assessment process is extensive consultation with both the public and First Nations. The project must provide a forum for public concerns about the project to be heard. In addition to environmental effects, social, cultural and economic impacts must be considered in the environmental assessment process.

A summary of the factors that must be considered in an environmental assessment is provided by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency: [5]

  • Environmental effects, including environmental effects caused by accidents and malfunctions, and cumulative environmental effects
  • Significance of those environmental effects
  • Public comments
  • Mitigation measures and follow-up program requirements
  • Purpose of the designated project
  • Alternative means of carrying out the designated project
  • Changes to the project caused by the environment
  • Results of any relevant regional study
  • Any other relevant matter

An environmental impact statement must be produced by the mining company or third-party consultant based on both the technical work and the consultations and provided to the appropriate regulatory authority for review and decision.

It is important that for the viability of the project that the environmental assessment and permitting process is comprehensive but also timely and efficient. One of the major factors for efficiency is coordination between provincial and federal legislation on environmental assessments. Large mining projects may be required to conduct an environmental assessment under both provincial and federal requirements. Generally, the objectives of the two sets of legislation are similar but specific reporting requirements may vary. For these cases, coordination between the two studies is important to ensure that consultation, technical studies, reporting and stakeholder review of documents are completed efficiently. [7] In some cases, one environmental assessment can meet the legal requirements for two jurisdictions. [5]

The length of time required for an economic assessment can vary but typically range between 1-2 years based on the magnitude of the potential impacts and the mitigating measures required. The cost to perform an environmental assessment is dependent on the time it takes to complete the study. However, the government agency responsible for the assessment is required by law to adhere to strict deadlines for reviews and decisions regarding environmental assessments. Government agencies that can be designated as “responsible authorities” for federal environmental assessments are the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the National Energy Board. [5]

The two types of federal environmental assessments are a comprehensive study or a review panel. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act specifies what type of project requires which type of environmental assessment. It is possible for the environmental assessment of a project to begin as a comprehensive study and progress to a review panel based on an perceived higher environmental risk. [7] A comprehensive study takes 1 year and a review panel takes 2 years. The detailed timelines and requirements for both processes are outlined on the Government of Canada website for environmental assessments. [5]

Table 3 summarizes some of the strengths and weaknesses of the environmental assessment process in Canada as identified by the National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy.

Table 3: Overview of Strengths and Weaknesses of the Environmental Assessment Process in Canada [6]
Strengths Weaknesses
  • Systematic environmental review framework
  • Formally recognized and legislated process
  • Consistencies in application and general acceptability across sectors
  • Recognizes the importance of public participation and diverse sources of information
  • Integrates environmental considerations across agencies, departments and sectors
  • Initiates consideration of environmental impacts early in the planning process
  • Allows for determining mitigation and alternative planning options
  • Potential impact of human health rarely considered
  • Assessment is performed when the project has been decided-upon
  • Uncertainty: data are limited, natural systems are complex
  • Reports are often excessively long (thousands of pages)
  • Inadequate and adversarial public participation
  • Emphasis on procedure over content

Explosives Handling Permits

Table 4: Explosives Handling Permits Sumamry
Time: Minimum of 30-day approval period from the day the granting agency receives the application
Cost: Varies (see tables in General Information section)
Study Requirements: Verify that use and quantities requested in permit application are accurate
Additional Resources: Importation, Exportation, and Transportation


Explosives Resources


General Information

There are several licenses involved with the handling and use of explosives, fireworks, firearms, pesticides, dangerous substances, etc.

  • Explosive importation permit – to import authorized explosives into Canada
  • Explosive magazine license – use or store explosives
  • Explosives transportation permit – to transport explosives by road, railway, ship or pipeline and comply with the Transport of Dangerous Goods Regulations
  • Non-mechanical ammonium nitrate and fuel oil (AN/FO) certificate – required to manually mix nitrate and fuel oil

There is no assessment or study to be completed prior to submitting the permit application, although an understanding of the use of the explosives must be communicated with the issuing agency. Should any additional information be required by the issuing agency, the 30-day approval period restarts from when the new information is received. The fees are summarized as follows:

  • The fees for the Explosives Transportation Permits varies by application as it depends on the quantity and type of products being transported.
  • The fees for the Non-Mechanical Ammonium Nitrate and Fuel Oil (AN/FO) Certificate is $75.
  • The fees for the Explosive Importation Permit and the Explosive (User) Magazine License are outlined below in Table 5 and Table 6 respectively.
Table 5: Fees for the Explosive Importation Permit [8]
Annual Import Permit $160 plus $20 for each 1,000 kg NEQ imported subject to a maximum fee of $1,300, calculated:

(a) on the basis of the estimated maximum quantity to be imported during the year, for an initial application; and

(b) on the basis of the quantity imported during the most recent year, for any subsequent application

Single Use Import Permit $160
Export and In Transit Permits No Fees
Authorization for a specified period, for use other than at a tour or international competition $150 fee will be charged for authorization for a specified period for products that are not authorized products
Authorization for a specified period for use at a tour or international competition $500 for each pyrotechnic event or fireworks display, subject to a maximum fee of $2,500 for events or displays that are part of the same tour or international competition.

Table 6: Fees for the Explosive (User) Magazine License [8]
User magazine licence to store high explosives or initiation systems $140 per magazine, subject to a minimum fee of $280
User magazine zone licence to store high explosives or initiation systems $200 per magazine, subject to a minimum fee of $400
User magazine licence to store any other explosives, other than explosives stored by law enforcement agencies $70

Species at Risk Permit

Table 7: Species at Risk Permit Summary
Time: 90 day waiting period for approval
Cost: Not specified
Study Requirements: Clearly outlined alternatives and corrective actions
Additional Resources: Information for Businesses


General Information

This permit is required to work in an area that affects the habitat of an endangered wildlife species as specified under schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). [9]

These permits are assessed on a case by case basis and require that the following study points be addressed in the permit application: [10]

  • Reasonable alternatives to the action impacting the schedule 1 species have been considered and the best action has been selected,
  • All feasible measures will be taken to minimize the impact on the schedule 1 species, its habitat and the inhabitants of the area, and
  • The activity will not jeopardize the survival or recovery of the species.

Applications for this permit can be filed under two regulating agencies: Fisheries and Oceans Canada for aquatic species and Parks Canada for everything else. Although there is no specified cost for submitting the permit application, the level of detailed information needed in the application would require consultation with an environmental specialist to ensure the information is accurate and correctly obtained.

An approved permit is valid for a maximum of 3 years, after which a new application must be submitted and the permit renewed.

If there is any question about whether the project activities will impact a federally protected species and its habitat then Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, or Parks Canada Agency should be contacted for further information.

Primary Federal Regulating Bodies

Every permit will have a specified cost, renewal period, waiting period, inspection requirement and application form available through the ministry that oversees it. The primary ministries that should be contacted for information on permit requirements are the following:


  1. 1.0 1.1 Dentons Canada LLP. (2015). Doing Business in Canada. Toronto: Dentons Canada LLP.
  2. Government of Ontario. (2017, January 5). Environmental Approvals. Retrieved from Government of Ontario: https://www.ontario.ca/page/environmental-approvals
  3. 3.0 3.1 Government of Canada. (2017). Permits and Licenses Search. Retrieved from Canada Business Network: http://canadabusiness.ca/search-permits/
  4. The Mining Association of Canada. (2017). Our Focus: Regulatory Effectiveness. Retrieved from The Mining Association of Canada: http://mining.ca/our-focus/regulatory-effectiveness
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Government of Canada. (2016, July 6). Basics of Environmental Assessment. Retrieved from Government of Canada: https://www.canada.ca/en/environmental-assessment-agency/services/environmental-assessments/basics-environmental-assessment.html
  6. 6.0 6.1 Mendell, A. (2010). Four Types of Impact Assessment Used in Canada. Québec: National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. (2012, May 15). Environmental Assessment. Retrieved from Ministry of Northern Development and MInes: http://www.mndm.gov.on.ca/en/ring-fire-secretariat/environmental-assessment
  8. 8.0 8.1 Government of Canada. (2016, Decmber 13). Explosives. Retrieved from Natural Resources Canada: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/explosives
  9. Government of Canada. (2017, February 3). SARA Permits and Agreements. Retrieved from Species at Risk Public Registry: http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/sar/permit/permits_e.cfm
  10. Government of Canada. (2014, October 3). General Questions and Answers of SARA Permits. Retrieved from Species at Risk Public Registry: http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=EA35A22E-1#ws3DC1863F