Toronto, ON – A new letter from the Canadian government reveals it is trying to undermine NAFTA’s Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) to stop an investigation into the lack of enforcement of the federal Fisheries Act pertaining to leaking toxic liquid waste from tar sands tailings lakes.
“This letter is the latest in a dangerous pattern of the federal government systematically attacking anything that gets in the way of its reckless plans for tar sands expansion,” says Hannah McKinnon of Environmental Defence. “The government has muzzled scientists, gutted environmental laws, shut the public out of pipeline hearings, attacked environmental organizations, abandoned other international treaties, and now it is attacking the respected CEC for doing what it is mandated to do – look into the pollution of our water.”
As part of the environmental side agreement to NAFTA, the CEC was established to investigate legitimate concerns of organizations and citizens about the enforcement of environmental laws.
The government’s letter is part of an ongoing case, filed in 2010 by Environmental Defence, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and three Canadian citizens who have lived downstream of the tar sands. The case attests that the government is failing to enforce section 36 (3) of the federal Fisheries Act, which prohibits waste from being deposited in habitats frequented by fish. The case is based on government data that has determined that approximately 11 million litres of toxic liquid tailings waste from tar sands operations leak into surrounding ecosystems every day. In December of 2013, the CEC made a determination that the case had merit and would proceed.
“This is an issue of human rights and human health,” says Daniel T’seleie, one of the three citizens that filed the case. “First Nations depend on this water to drink; we depend on this water to support the fish and animals that form an integral part of our traditional diets and way of life. Canada’s government is failing to do even the bare minimum to protect the water. Instead of wasting time attacking this process they should focus on cleaning up their acts.”
“Environment Canada is making empty threats to try and prevent the Commission from carrying out this investigation,” says Barry Robinson, staff lawyer with Ecojustice. “It is clear that there is enough evidence for the Commission to investigate this further, and it is equally clear that Environment Canada has known about leaking tailings ponds for some time and has failed to act.”
In the next step, the CEC is expected to determine whether or not to undertake a factual record in which all stakeholders would be invited to submit relevant evidence to the process related to the enforcement or lack thereof of the environmental law in question.
“Canada’s climate and environmental record is under incredible scrutiny in the United States right now, and high priced ads plastered all over DC and glossy magazines won’t change this reality,” says Danielle Droitsch, Director of NRDC’s Canada Program. “American policymakers aren’t buying the Canadian federal government’s multi-million dollar PR blitz to greenwash tar sands outside its borders. The failed oversight of that mess is also plain for all to see. Ignoring intergovernmental organizations like CEC is the latest in a string of decisions that undercut Canada’s world standing.”
 “It is incredible the lengths that this government is willing to go to in order to peddle the tar sands,” says McKinnon. “We are sinking our reputation, our environment, and our climate all for a high carbon fuel that is worth less than two per cent of our GDP. Canadians deserve better.  We have what we need to build a safe and clean energy economy at our fingertips, what are we waiting for?”
A copy of the letter can be found at http://www.cec.org/Storage/157/18576_10-2-PTS-2014-05-14_en.pdf.
About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (www.environmentaldefence.ca): 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 interview requests, please contact:
Jen Mayville, Environmental Defence, 416-323-9521 ext. 228; 905-330-0172 (cell);jmayville@environmentaldefence.ca
Josh Mogerman, NRDC, 773-531-5359 (cell); jmogerman@nrdc.org