Species at Risk Act Parliamentary Review Underway

The long awaited (and overdue) five-year review of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) is finally underway in Parliament. The review is being conducted by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. This review is mandated under the act, and is an opportunity to shine light on the legislative and implementation shortcomings of SARA, as well as to put us on the right path towards strengthening the act and how it is being applied across the country.

I had the privilege of appearing in front of the Standing Committee in early June to represent Nature Canada together with NGO and industry association members of the Species at Risk Advisory Committee (SARAC). Because SARAC boasts members from diverse industry, academic and environmental perspectives, it is a unique committee providing multi-faceted advice about SARA to Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans and Parks Canada.

SARAC’s consensus message to the Standing Committee was clear: there is much work to be done on many elements of SARA to ensure that it lives up to its promise as a strong piece of legislation for the protection of wildlife at risk and their habitats in Canada. You can read the full SARAC brief submitted to the Standing Committee, and read a transcript of my testimony to the Standing Committee (and that of my SARAC colleagues from the David Suzuki Foundation, the Mining Association of Canada, and the Fisheries Council of Canada) here.

There have been a few other sessions of this review so far (with much still to talk about!). A particularly interesting witness was Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings, chair of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). COSEWIC is the independent science committee tasked under SARA with assessing the status of species at risk in Canada, and recommending species for listing and protection under the act. During his very compelling testimony, Dr. Hutchings told the Standing Committee about the paramount importance of maintaining the independence of COSEWIC so that the best possible unbiased scientific information is used to assess species status. COSEWIC also recommended to the Standing Committee that the legal listing loophole of SARA be closed so that species assessed as at risk actually receive timely legal protection under the act. You can read a transcript of Dr. Hutching’s testimony (including a lively debate among the Standing Committe’s MPs about the appropriateness of discussing Ministerial appointments to COSEWIC) here.

There are no additional SARA sessions scheduled for the Standing Committee before Parliament rises later this month for the summer. Nature Canada has spent the past year collaborating with David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice and Environmental Defence on an analysis of SARA’s shortcomings. We’ve also mapped out detailed solutions to fix these problems. I’m eagerly anticipating the opportunity for Nature Canada and our NGO partners to present this information to the five-year review once the Standing Committee resumes its work in the fall. Stay tuned for updates!