Ecojustice Blog – Healthy communities Posted on November 28, 2012 (updated: February 17, 2015)

Breaking down yet another attack on Canada’s environmental laws

Kimberly Shearon headshotKimberly ShearonStaff

When the federal government tabled Bill C-45, its second omnibus bill of the year, it took aim at another long standing environmental law: the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

While the law has, on occasion, delayed minor projects like small docks or footbridges, the tabled amendments go far beyond reducing red tape for efficiency’s sake.

Proposed changes include changing the name of the law to the Navigable Protection Act (NPA), dropping “Waters” from the title altogether. And indeed, under the proposed changes, Canada’s waterways will have significantly less protection: The proposed schedule includes three oceans, 97 lakes,and portions of 62 rivers.

By comparison, Canada is estimated to contain nearly 32,000 major lakes and more than 2.25 million rivers: The NPA would exclude 99.7 per cent of Canada’s lakes and more than 99.9 per cent of Canada’s rivers from federal oversight. Notably absent from the proposed schedule are significant rivers in British Columbia, such as the Kitimat and Upper Fraser Rivers, which lie along the path of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

The changes would leave thousands of Canada’s waterways unprotected and further eliminate environmental hurdles for projects like Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, which would cross nearly 800 water crossings.

In essence, the federal government is turning its back on regulating Canada’s waterways. In doing so, it is shifting the burden of protecting this country’s lakes, rivers and streams onto citizens, public interest groups and local businesses that, in many cases, do not have the resources to battle big corporations looking to install new bridges, pipelines or dams.

Learn more by checking out this Globe and Mail op-ed, penned by Ecojustice’s Will Amos and Ian Miron, who work out of our environmental law clinic at the University of Ottawa:

Unless one enjoys navigation on a listed waterway (in Muskoka or the Thousand Islands, for example), most Canadians will have to invest their own time and money to ensure lakes and rivers are free from obstructions. The same cottagers who may soon able to build docks without an approval will be dismayed to find that their boating activities are fettered by new bridges, also built without approval. The municipality that installs a water intake pipe without filing pages of paperwork may be vexed when a new dam is installed without notice, reducing recreational boating opportunities and associated tourism revenue. To challenge infringements of  navigation rights, cottagers and municipalities will have to bring lawsuits, likely in the form of public nuisance actions.

This morning, Will appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Energy and Natural Resources to make the case against these amendments.

These changes are just the latest in a series of deep cuts to Canada’s environment laws. They follow the sweeping changes made to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and Fisheries Act through Bill C-38, the spring’s highly controversial omnibus budget bill that became a flashpoint for protests across the country.

But with your help, Ecojustice will continue to fight on the front lines against these unprecedented attacks on nature and democracy. Stand up for Canada’s environmental laws by making a $5 donation online today.

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