Fisheries Act

New Fisheries Act Reverses Harper-era ‘Gutting’

New Fisheries Act Reverses Harper-era ‘Gutting’

Canada’s fishery laws are back — well, on the first step to being back, at least. On Tuesday morning, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc officially announced the introduction of an heavily amended Fisheries Act, the key piece of legislation that was gutted in 2012 by the federal Conservatives. And fishery law experts are thrilled.

The government’s made good on its promises,” said Linda Nowlan, staff lawyer and head of the West Coast Environmental Law’s marine program. “They’ve not only restored lost protections, especially for fish habitat, but they’ve also introduced a number of modernizations that were long overdue.”

B.C. Coal Mine Company Teck Fined $1.4 Million for Polluting B.C. River

Elk Valley coal mine

Teck Resources pled guilty Thursday to three violations of the federal Fisheries Act for polluting a tributary of the Elk River and was sentenced to pay a $1,425,000 penalty into the federal Environmental Damages Fund, which will help restore fish habitat in British Columbia’s Elk Valley.

On October 16, 2014, 45 dead fish were found in Line Creek near one of Teck’s five coal mines in the region. The following day, Environment Canada investigators found waste water from a Teck water treatment plant, put in place to deal with selenium pollution, was entering Line Creek, a tributary of Elk River.

Selenium is a naturally occurring chemical element, but it can be harmful in even very tiny amounts. Selenium pollution is produced by coal, uranium and bitumen extraction and is of growing concern in Canada.

The dead fish found by Environment Canada investigators included bull trout, a species of special concern in the region. The Fisheries Act  prohibits the deposit of deleterious substances into water frequented by fish.

Canada’s Environmental Fines are Tiny Compared to the U.S.

Mount Polley mine disaster

This week marks the three-year anniversary of the Mount Polley mine disaster, which sent 24 million cubic metres of mining waste into Quesnel Lake, making it one of the worst environmental disasters in Canadian history.

It’ll be a stinging reminder of the tailings pond collapse for local residents, especially considering no charges have been laid against Imperial Metals, owner and operator of Mount Polley.

Come August 5 it will be too late for B.C. to lay charges, given a three-year statute of limitations — however federal charges can be laid for another two years.

But here’s the thing: under the federal Fisheries Act, Mount Polley can receive a maximum of $12 million in fines: $6 million for causing harm to fish and fish habitat and $6 million for dumping deleterious substances without a permit into fish bearing waters.

No Charges, No Fines For Mount Polley Mine Disaster as Three-Year Legal Deadline Approaches

Mount Polley mine disaster

As the three-year anniversary of the Mount Polley mine disaster approaches, so too does the deadline for the province to lay any charges against mine owner Imperial Metals.

Considered one of the worst environmental disasters in Canadian history, the failure of the Mount Polley tailings pond sent an estimated 25 million cubic metres of contaminated mine waste flooding into Quesnel Lake, a source of drinking water for local residents of Likely, B.C., on August 4, 2014.

I would have expected something to have happened by now,” fisheries biologist and Likely resident Richard Holmes told DeSmog Canada. “I know they had a lot of information to sift through but it has been three years. I’m hopeful there will be some charges forthcoming.”

Federal Government Seeks to Quash Lawsuit Against Mount Polley and B.C. Government Before Evidence Heard

The federal government is seeking to stay a private lawsuit brought against Mount Polley Mining Corporation and the B.C. government in October 2016, nearly 30 months after the collapse of the Mount Polley tailings pond spilled 25-million cubic metres of contaminated mining waste into Quesnel Lake, a source of drinking water for residents of Likely, B.C.

Now the federal government is seeking a withdrawal of the criminal charges before MiningWatch Canada — the organization that first brought the charges, which claim the company and the province violated the federal Fisheries Act — has been given the opportunity to present evidence.

We were stunned that the federal Crown does not even want us to show the court that there was enough evidence to justify proceeding with a prosecution against both the B.C. government and [the Mount Polley Mining Corporation] for the worst mining spill in Canadian history,” Ugo Lapointe, Canada Program Coordinator for MiningWatch, said.

Five Ways to Fix Environmental Reviews: Young Scientists to Trudeau

Mount Polley Mine Spill

Fallout from environmental assessments or development decisions that don’t meet the highest scientific standards will land on the shoulders of the younger generation, which is why Canada’s lack of scientific rigour and transparency must be addressed now, say more than 1,300 young scientists who have written an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and six cabinet ministers.

As the next generation of scientists in Canada, we are professionally and personally affected by how government evaluates the pros and cons of development, especially large-scale infrastructure and energy projects,” said lead author Aerin Jacob, a University of Victoria postdoctoral fellow who specializes in tradeoffs between conservation planning and sustainable development.

Reviews based on limited or biased scientific information potentially put the environment and the well-being of Canadians at risk,” she said.

Can Canada Save Its Fish Habitat Before It’s Too Late?

Salmon

Thirteen years ago, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) issued almost 700 authorizations to projects that would negatively impact fish habitat, mostly in the resource extraction sector: forestry, mining, oil and gas.

By last fiscal year, that number had dropped to 74.

One would think that’s a positive sign. Perhaps the DFO approved far fewer projects, echoing its ambitious 1986 commitment to “no net loss” of fish habitat?

That wasn’t the case.

Thanks to a number of changes — mostly via the “Environmental Process Modernization Plan” of the mid-2000s and the Conservative Party’s industry-led gutting of the Fisheries Act in 2012 — most projects are now “self-assessed” by proponents.

Over the same span, the DFO’s budget was repeatedly slashed, increasingly undermining the department’s ability to monitor and enforce contraventions with “boots on the ground.”

Harm is happening at the same levels that it always has been,” says Martin Olszynski, assistant professor in law at University of Calgary who specializes in environmental, water and natural resources law. “It’s just that fewer and fewer proponents are coming to DFO and asking for authorization. That’s the reality on the ground.”

New Report Shows “Systematic Dismantling” of Canada’s Environmental Laws Under Conservative Government

A new report released Wednesday chronicles the changes made to Canada’s environmental laws under the federal Conservatives since they formed government in 2011.

The report, released by West Coast Environmental Law and the Quebec Environmental Law Centre, highlights “the repeal or amendment of most of Canada’s foundational environmental laws since 2011” and suggests many of the changes were a “gift to industry.”

The record suggests that industry lobbied hard for removing environmental protections that it believed were impeding business,” the report states.

Major changes include the weakening of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which removed 99 per cent of Canada’s lakes and rivers from protection, as well as changes to the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act.

Weakening of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act means approximately 90 per cent of major industry projects that would have undergone a federal review no longer will, according to the report.

Karine Peloffy, director general of the Quebec Environmental Law Centre, said Canada’s environmental legislation is intrinsically tied into the fabric of the country’s democracy.

Our waters, species, and our very democracy have been put at risk by changes made to our environmental laws since 2011,” Peloffy said.

Canada’s Fight Against NAFTA Investigation of Oilsands Tailings Gets Political, Wins Allies

tailings pond, suncor, tar sands, oilsands, alex maclean

The U.S. and Mexico appear to have joined Canada in its fight to prevent a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) investigation of the more than 176 square kilometres of tailings ponds holding waste from the Alberta oilsands near Fort McMurray.

In 2010 a group of citizens and environmental groups petitioned NAFTA’s Commission on Environmental Cooperation to investigate whether Canada is breaking its own federal laws, in particular the Fisheries Act, by failing to adequately manage the massive tailings ponds which hold a toxic mixture of water, silt and chemicals.

It was important for us to know whether this was happening and whether environmental laws were being broken and whether the government is upholding those laws or ignoring them,” Dale Marshall from Environmental Defence, one of the organizations behind the compliant, said.

A 2012 federal study confirmed the tailings ponds are seeping waste into the local environment and Athabasca River. In 2013 an internal memo prepared for then Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver confirmed groundwater toxins related to bitumen extraction and processing are migrating from the tailings ponds.

Harper Government Took Industry Advice, Ignored Environmental Groups, on Controversial Fisheries Act Changes

Salmon spawning sign in Port Coquitlam

The Harper government followed the advice of industry associations when making controversial changes to the Fisheries Act in the 2012 omnibus budget bills, documents relased through access to information legislation reveal.

Gloria Galloway writes for the Globe and Mail that in 2010, “the High Park Group consulting firm was commissioned by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to gather industry and business observations about the habitat protection provisions of the Fisheries Act.”

The released documents show that phrasing regarding changes to fisheries protections “suggest that wording was offered by industry associations,” according to Galloway.

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