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Fish, wild salmon and polar bears to be considered by NAFTA commission

The Canadian Press reports that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Commission for Environmental Co-operation (CEC) has asked the Harper government to respond to allegations that it failed to enforce the Fisheries Act with respect to tar sands tailings waste.

“Two environmental groups (Environmental Defence Canada and the Natural Resources Defense Council) and three individuals (in Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories who live downstream of the tar sands) assert the federal government has failed to enforce provisions in the Fisheries Act by allowing harmful substances to leak from tailings ponds into surface and ground water sources downstream of the tar sands in northeastern Alberta.”

“On Wednesday, the CEC determined that the submission ‘warrants requesting a response from the government of Canada’ and gave Ottawa up to 60 days to respond (so around February 11, 2014) . …Once the CEC receives the government’s response, it will decide whether a full review is required. …The body doesn’t have any teeth to compel governments or companies to act, but it could raise awareness of the problem and exert pressure to improve enforcement, said Gillian McEachern (from Environmental Defence).”

This is the second recent challenge over the Fisheries Act through this NAFTA commission.

In mid-November, the Kwikwasu’tinuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation and a number of groups (Including the US-based Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Law Clinic, as well as the Pacific Coast Wild Salmon Society) also challenged the Harper government for its failure to enforce the Fisheries Act through the NAFTA CEC.

In that case, the Canadian Press reports, “The groups claim Ottawa is exposing wild salmon to sea lice, disease, toxic chemicals and concentrated waste (through fish farms). …The complainants argue the federal government isn’t enforcing two sections of the Fisheries Act. …Section 35, they argue, prohibits any work or undertaking that results in harmful alteration or disruption to fish habitat without valid authorization. …(And) Section 36, which prohibits the deposit of deleterious substances in water frequented by fish unless a deposit is authorized by regulation.”

Environment Canada has written the commission asking that it terminate the proceedings. “The commission has now written back asking for further explanation within 30 working days and has a set final deadline of Dec. 17.”

Also, yesterday the Canadian Press reports, “(The NAFTA Commission for Environmental Co-operation) says there are ‘central open questions’ about how Canada is enforcing its own laws when it comes to protecting polar bears. And the damning ruling sets the table for a full factual study of the government’s practices under Canada’s Species At Risk Act.” The complaint was initiated by the US-based Center for Biological Diversity. “Mexico, the United States and Canada have until February 21 to vote on whether the factual study of Canada’s behaviour will go ahead.” Again, this article acknowledges, “The (Commission) has no power to compel governments to act.”

Further reading
First Nation appeals to NAFTA commission on Harper’s violations of Fisheries Act