Toronto, ON – Yesterday the environmental side-body of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), announced its decision that the Canadian federal government has up to 60 days to respond to allegations that it’s failing to enforce the anti-pollution provisions of the federal Fisheries Act by allowing the tar sands tailings ponds to leak contaminated materials into in the Athabasca watershed. Environmental Defence, Natural Resources Defense Council and three affected citizens asked the CEC to look into the issue. The CEC will determine whether a full review is required after government responds to the allegations.
“The federal government has been trying to convince the U.S., our largest trading partner, that it’s doing a good job in managing the environmental impacts of the tar sands, but now an important trade body is questioning that,” said Gillian McEachern of Environmental Defence. “As we head into the final stretch of the Keystone XL debate, U.S. decision makers should take note of yet another indication that Canada’s enforcement of existing laws is in question.”
The citizens’ submission, filed in April 2010, documents cases where contaminated tailings leakage reached surface waters. It also noted the massive ongoing and increasing leakage from unlined tar sands tailings ponds into the region’s groundwater. The Fisheries Act prohibits the discharge of substances harmful to fish, yet the federal government has never prosecuted documented infractions nor has it enacted regulations that would permit the discharge. The CEC released its decision yesterday that the submission meets its criteria.
“People hunt, fish and drink the water downstream of the tar sands tailings ponds, and companies should be prevented from leaking toxic chemicals into the water,” said Daniel T’seleie, a citizen of the Northwest Territories and signatory to the submission. “I’m glad the CEC is looking into this because we haven’t gotten answers from government.”
“The fable the Canadian government tells in the U.S. is they have sound environmental practices. But the real story is environmental protection around tar sands development is clearly lacking with massive toxic lakes that poison fish and communities,” said Danielle Droitsch of Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Canadian government doesn’t have a good news story to sell Keystone XL.”
The submission was filed by Environmental Defence Canada, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and three private citizens living downstream from the tar sands: John Rigney in Alberta, Don Derranger in Saskatchewan, and Daniel T’seleie in the Northwest Territories. The Athabasca watershed spans Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories. The federal government has up to 60 days to respond to the allegations, at which point the CEC will decide whether to conduct a full review.
About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE ( Environmental Defence is Canada’s most effective environmental action organization. We challenge, and inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Stephanie Kohls, Environmental Defence, 416-323-9521 ext 232; 647-280-9521 (cell),
Daniel T’seleie: 867-444-0509
Danielle Droitsch, Natural Resources Defense Council: 202-413-0193