Ottawa - Leading environmental organizations, Indigenous nations and prominent people in Canada are calling on Prime Minister Trudeau and the federal government to restore protection for 99% of all lakes and rivers in Canada. Five years ago today, the former government removed protections from all but 97 lakes, 62 rivers and three oceans under the Navigable Waters Protection Act, now named the Navigation Protection Act (NPA).
Following commitments to “restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards” in the Navigation Protection Act and other environmental laws, the government launched a consultation process and assigned a Parliamentary Committee to review this important law.
“The changes made five years ago today weakened Canada’s environmental laws and were an assault on our democracy,” says David Suzuki, a prominent environmentalist and signatory to the letter. “Now that the environmental law reviews have concluded, the Trudeau government is at a crossroads. We need the government to lead us into a sustainable future that protects all lakes and rivers and people’s right to navigate them.”
The changes to the NPA also absolved Transport Canada’s responsibility to review pipeline projects for their impacts on waterways, including projects like Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline and Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, which runs from Hardisty, AB to the shores of Lake Superior.
“Indigenous nations have made clear that the former Harper government failed to obtain free, prior and informed consent on the NPA. Prime Minister Trudeau has repeated his promise to establish nation-to-nation relationships with Indigenous nations, and recognizing Indigenous authority and jurisdiction over lakes and rivers is a key step to this process,” says Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. “Protecting water matters not only to Indigenous peoples but to everyone living on these lands.”
“Protecting every lake and every river is critical to Canada implementing the United Nations-recognized human rights to water and sanitation,” says Maude Barlow, Honorary Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “This year New Zealand and India took bold steps to protect two rivers by designating them legal entities. It is this blue future that we must work towards that recognize not only human rights, but the rights of nature too.”
“Since before Confederation, Canada’s courts recognized the rights of the public to navigable waters for purposes ranging from transportation and economy to fish and water,” said Andrew Gage, Staff Counsel, West Coast Environmental Law Association. “We need a modern law that protects those long-standing rights, as well as earlier Indigenous rights, and recognizes the importance of a healthy national river system to who we are as Canadians.”
More than 60 groups and Indigenous nations sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Transport Minister Marc Garneau which also calls for the federal government to:
- incorporate co-governance with Indigenous nations, recognizing their authority and jurisdictions over waterways on their traditional territories
- Recognize that the government manages navigable waterways subject to public trust principles for current and future generations
- Apply a precautionary approach in regulating any works or activities that threaten public and Indigenous rights to navigation and associated environmental values
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport completed a review of the Navigation Protection Act, and released a series of recommendations in March 2017 to update Canada’s laws related to navigable waters. The government is expected to introduce amendments to the law in the coming months.