One year after Canada found in violation of Fisheries Act, still no federal action on leaking tar sands tailings ponds

Toronto, Ont. – Tomorrow, September 4, marks the one year anniversary when the international Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) released a Factual Record showing overwhelming evidence that Canada’s oil sands tailings ponds are leaking toxic pollutants into groundwater and tributaries of the Athabasca River in violation of the Fisheries Act. Since then, the Federal government has taken no action to address this situation despite proclaiming that “the tailings issue is a problem that we are going to have to address” and the findings of  the Factual Record “cannot be ignored.” This continual lack of action has allowed millions of additional litres of toxic water to leak from the tailings ponds.

During this federal election, Albertans and Canadians deserve clarity on what their representatives will do to finally put an end to the environmental racism in Alberta’s tar sands. The growing toxic tailings ponds, which currently over 1.25 trillion liters of oil sands process water, threaten the health of local First Nations, as well as the surrounding ecosystems. Party leaders, as well as those running in Fort McMurray – Cold Lake, must commit to enforcing the existing laws, such as the Fisheries Act, that would help protect local populations from these ongoing toxic leaks into their water source.

The same oil companies that are fueling the climate crisis are also knowingly allowing these toxic substances to leak into the Athabasca River – and the next Parliament should ensure that these same companies are accountable for the clean up, based on reclamation plans approved by local First Nations.

Decades after the first drop of toxic water leaked from the ponds, and one year after the CEC acknowledged that Canada was failing to enforce its own law, it is imperative that we hear from those who wish to represent Canadians in Parliament on the issue.

About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE ( Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian environmental advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.


For more information and to arrange an interview please contact:

Barbara Hayes, Environmental Defence,


Background: Main findings of the factual record released by the CEC:

The Commission on Environmental Cooperation is a multinational body created under NAFTA to conduct research and facilitate cooperation and public conversations on shared environmental issues.

  • The record validated the claims of Environmental Defence, The Natural Resources Defence Council and Daniel T’Seleie of the K’ahsho Got’ine Dene First Nation that in failing to enforce the Fisheries Act, the government of Canada is placing the health of First Nations people, and the wildlife and ecosystems they depend upon, at risk.
  • The Factual Record estimated 785,000 cubic metres of Oil Sands Process Water (OSPW) have leaked from the Aurora Settling Basin alone, corresponding to an average of 39.25 million litres a year from a single tailings pond over its 20-year operation.
  • Data provided by Syncrude, and validated by independent scientists, show seepage of tailings ponds chemicals into groundwater adjacent to tributaries of the Athabasca River
  • There is experimental and monitoring evidence showing that tailings chemicals seep into freshwater, meaning that tailings water is circumventing systems meant to capture it after it escapes tailings ponds, and two tributaries of the Athabasca River contained elevated concentrations of tailings chemicals
  • The evidence presented in the CEC Factual Record clearly shows that tailings ponds are seeping, and that their continued operation, in the absence of regulatory authority, constitutes a violation of the Fisheries Act.
  • The federal government is responsible for enforcing the Fisheries Act, since there is no administrative agreement between the federal and Alberta governments giving the responsibility for enforcing the Fisheries Act solely to Alberta

Read the full Factual Record here:

Read our latest blog post on the tailings ponds here: