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Feds Introduce Legislation to Restore Fish Habitat Protection
Sockeye Salmon Swimming Upstream.
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Feds Introduce Legislation to Restore Fish Habitat Protection

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] Today in Parliament, federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc introduced amendments to the Fisheries Act, including provisions to restore important habitat safeguards and strengthen enforcement measures, as well as clarify  authorizations for projects or proposals that may damage habitat. Most importantly, the prohibition on altering, damaging or destroying fish habitat would be restored. Habitat that is particularly sensitive ecologically would be carefully scrutinized and activities that could affect them would not be authorized. The amendments make good on the 2015 election pledge by the Trudeau Liberals to restore lost protection for fish habitat. The legislation would also be modernized by providing for “fisheries management orders” that add regulatory tools and broaden the government’s ability to limit harmful fishing practices. New long-term area-based fisheries closures would better protect marine biodiversity and protect vulnerable stocks of fish. New whale protection provisions are also included. [caption id="attachment_29226" align="alignright" width="420"]Image of ships on water Photo by Sofia Osbourne[/caption] A new public registry would provide public access to a wide range of government decisions, improve transparency and help stop the 'death by a thousand cuts' for fish habitat. The Fisheries Minister’s power to enter into agreements with Indigenous governing bodies would be increased. A new section addresses the use of traditional Indigenous knowledge. Finally, there would be a new legal requirement to consider the adverse effects of decisions on fisheries on the rights of Indigenous people. Congratulations to Hon. Dominic LeBlanc on this very good bill. Thanks to Nature Canada’s members and supporters who pushed hard for a strong Fisheries Act and strong environmental laws in general. Watch this space—we need to make sure that the House of Commons and Senate both pass bills that are at least as strong as the bill the Minister introduced into the House today.

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Raising Our Voices For Our Environmental Laws
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Raising Our Voices For Our Environmental Laws

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] Best Opportunity in a Generation for Real Change. Right now is the best opportunity in a generation for federal environmental law reform. In June, the government announced its decision to establish expert panels to review critical environmental laws gutted by the previous government. This decision shows that our voices were heard. Thank you! Together with your support, we’ll ensure nature’s voice is heard. Here are just a few crucial changes Nature Canada would like to see to strengthen our laws: Canadian Environmental Assessment Act

  1. Require assessment of climate change effects of all projects with large greenhouse gas emissions or new fossil fuel infrastructure. Require measures to reduce those emissions to meet our international commitments.
  2. Ensure assessment of the environmental effects of catastrophic events such as oil tanker spills.
  3. Engage indigenous governments and communities as partners in environmental assessments.
  4. Guarantee participants the right to be heard and the right to raise questions in hearings.
Fisheries Act
  1. Bring back protection of all fish habitat, not just habitat that supports commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fisheries; and
  2. Require environmental assessments of projects that would harm fish habitat before permits to begin construction are issued. Proceeding with construction without a permit should be unlawful.
You can read more about our comprehensive recommendations on all environmental laws under review by visiting our website.
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Nature Canada calls on Fisheries and Oceans Committee to Strengthen the Fisheries Act
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Nature Canada calls on Fisheries and Oceans Committee to Strengthen the Fisheries Act

[caption id="attachment_28942" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Adam Bond Adam Bond[/caption] Nature Canada is calling on the House of Commons Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (FOPO) to recommend that the Fisheries Act be amended to account for cumulative effects of works, undertakings and activities that harm fish habitat as well as enhance the standard for protecting fish habitat. As part of the Government of Canada’s environmental law reform process, FOPO is reviewing lost protections under the Fisheries Act and consulting with Canadians on how to address concerns about the protection of fish and fish habitat. Nature Canada’s brief to FOPO contains six important recommendations, including the need for the Act to respect Indigenous rights; articulate its purposes; trigger environmental assessments where appropriate; clearly define “emissions”; revert to the harmful alteration, disturbance or destruction (HADD) standard for habitat protection; and account for cumulative effects on fish habitat. Currently, the Act prohibits works, undertakings and activities that results in serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery unless an exception is provided. By reverting to the HADD standard which applied prior to the 2012 amendments of the Act, Parliament can ensure a higher standard of protection for fish habitat. [caption id="attachment_30406" align="alignright" width="300"]Image of a Sockeye Salmon Photo of a Sockeye Salmon[/caption] The 2012 amendments diminished the scope of section 35 prohibitions on harm to fish by limiting the protections from prohibitions on harm to any fish habitat to prohibitions only on serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery. The “serious harm standard” that replaced the HADD standard in the 2013 amendments fails to take into consideration the impacts of harmful alterations, disruptions and destruction of fish habitat on fish unless each impact independently constitutes a “serious harm”. Limiting the scope of section 35 to prohibit serious harm only to commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fisheries boldly ignores the nature of ecosystems and the complex and dynamic relationships between organisms in their ecosystems. Sustainable management of fisheries can only be achieved through policies that are informed by science and evidence. The cumulative effects of diverse anthropogenic environmental stresses on aquatic ecosystems must be accounted for under the Fisheries Act. The Act must look beyond the impacts of individual activities to gain a more holistic understanding of the cumulative effects of the multitude of stressors that are degrading fish habitat and undermining the stability of fish stocks. As well, the pressures of climate change on oceans, such as temperature or coastal changes and water acidification work synergistically with other impacts such as pollution, plastics, noise and geophysical alteration to harm fish and fish habitat. Stock must be taken of these environmental impacts and this information must inform decision making under the Act. Failing to monitor and protect fish habitat against the direct and cumulative impacts of human activities on fish and fish habitat will undermine efforts to protect, restore or responsibly manage Canadian fisheries. The FOPO has an opportunity to recommend amendments to the Fisheries Act that restore and enhance protection for our fisheries.

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Conserving Nature and Getting to Sustainability through Federal Environmental Law
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Conserving Nature and Getting to Sustainability through Federal Environmental Law

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] In July, the federal government announced public reviews to consider reforms to four key environmental laws that had been gutted by the former Conservative government in 2012: Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, and National Energy Board Act. Here are some important changes that Nature Canada would like to see in these new laws: Fisheries Act

  1. Bring back protection of all fish habitat, not just habitat that supports commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fisheries.
  2. Require environmental assessments of proposed development projects that would harm fish habitat before permits to begin construction are issued. Proceeding with construction without a permit would be unlawful.
  3. Develop regulations that focus on preventing harm to fish habitat from bigger projects and cumulative harm from many small projects in threatened watersheds.
Navigable Waters Protection Act
  1. Bring back protection of the ecosystems of navigable waters as well as rights to navigate in all navigable water.
  2. Require environmental assessments and permits for works that interfere with navigation on navigable waters, with limited exemptions only for truly minor works on truly minor waterways.
Canadian Environmental Assessment Act Image of wetlands
  1. Require assessment of the environmental, social and economic sustainability of federal policies, programs and projects, and not just adverse environmental effects.
  2. Require assessment of climate change effects of all projects with large greenhouse gas emissions or that involve new fossil fuel infrastructure and require mitigation measures to reduce those emissions consistent with Canada’s international commitments. Also require assessment of the effects of global climate on proposed projects over the life-time of projects.
  3. Ensure assessment of cumulative effects of development, whether through strategic, regional assessments or project assessments.
  4. Ensure assessment of the environmental effects of catastrophic, if unlikely, events such as oil tanker spills and mine tailing dam failures.
  5. Engage indigenous governments and communities as governance partners in the environmental assessment process of projects, as is the case in Canada’s three northern territories.
  6. Guarantee minimum standards of procedural fairness to participants in environmental assessments, such as the right to be heard and the right to question proponents orally in hearings.
National Energy Board Act (and Nuclear Safety Act)
  1. Require that environmental assessments of pipelines and offshore oil and gas projects, be carried out by independent panels and not by the National Energy Board or the offshore oil and gas boards.
  2. Require that environmental assessments of nuclear energy projects also be carried out by independent panels and not by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
Federal Science and Compliance Capacity
  1. Rebuild federal science and compliance capacity to ensure protection of fish habitat and navigable water ecosystems, and carry out rigorous environmental assessments of proposed federal policies and programs, and projects requiring a federal decision.
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Protecting Canada’s Fish and Wildlife Habitat
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Protecting Canada’s Fish and Wildlife Habitat

[one_half] [caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] The new Liberal government has promised to strengthen environmental protection provisions removed from the Fisheries Act  by the previous government. Nature Canada is pleased to endorse several key amendments proposed by Prof. Martin Olszynski to protect fish habitat across Canada. Nature Canada thinks that wildlife habitat needs more protection as well. That is why we are also proposing amendments to the Canada Wildlife Act to protect National Wildlife Areas from oil and gas and mining exploration and development. Now we just need Parliament to get to work! [/one_half] [one_half_last][box style="1"]Summary of Key Environmental Law Changes Since 2011, the federal government has made the following changes:

  • Replaced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act with the weaker CEAA 2012, which scrapped over 3,000 environmental reviews, limits what gets considered in assessments and restricts the public’s right to participate.
  • Gutted the Fisheries Act by weakening fish habitat protection, removing protection over some fish species and broadening government’s powers to allow harm to fish and fish habitat.
  • Handed environmental oversight of major energy and pipeline projects to the National Energy Board.
  • Amended the Species at Risk Act by removing mandatory time limits on permits allowing impacts to threatened and endangered species.[/box]
Edited from the Canada's Track Record on Environmental Laws 2011-2015 Document by West Coast Environmental Law and the Quebec Environmental Law Centre. [/one_half_last] Email Signup

Nature Canada Proposals to Strengthen Canada’s Environmental Laws
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Nature Canada Proposals to Strengthen Canada’s Environmental Laws

[one_half] [caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and Legal Counsel[/caption] The new Liberal government of Justin Trudeau has promised to review environmental laws that have been weakened in recent years by the previous Conservative government. The Liberal election platform states that important environmental protection provisions removed from the Fisheries Act and Navigable Waters Protection Act will be restored and modern safeguards included. The platform also promises an “immediate public review of Canada’s environmental assessment processes” and to modernize the National Energy Board. Nature Canada is presenting proposals prepared by legal experts to strengthen these and other federal laws. These environmental laws will be essential to protecting our environment and need to be strengthened in order for things like biodiversity to be conserved. The first that is available is A Quick Start on Federal Environmental Assessment, prepared by Stephen Hazell, Nature Canada’s Director of Conservation and General Counsel. He proposes regulatory and policy changes to quickly improve federal environmental assessments of projects such as the Trans Mountain and Energy East Pipelines without recourse to Parliament for new legislation. Other proposals to strengthen the National Energy Board Act, the Fisheries Act, the Canada Wildlife Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, and the Species at Risk Act are coming soon![/one_half] [one_half_last][box style="1"]Summary of Key Environmental Law Changes Since 2011, the federal government has made the following changes:

  • Replaced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act with the weaker CEAA 2012, which scrapped over 3,000 environmental reviews, limits what gets considered in assessments and restricts the public’s right to participate.
  • Gutted the Fisheries Act by weakening fish habitat protection, removing protection over some fish species and broadening government’s powers to allow harm to fish and fish habitat.
  • Handed environmental oversight of major energy and pipeline projects to the National Energy Board.
  • Amended the Species at Risk Act by removing mandatory time limits on permits allowing impacts to threatened and endangered species.[/box]
Edited from the Canada's Track Record on Environmental Laws 2011-2015 Document by West Coast Environmental Law and the Quebec Environmental Law Centre. [/one_half_last]   Email Signup

Ottawa hands over fisheries protection along pipelines to National Energy Board
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Ottawa hands over fisheries protection along pipelines to National Energy Board

The responsibility for protecting fish and fish habitat in areas affected by pipelines and other energy projects regulated by the National Energy Board (NEB) will now fall to the NEB and not to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The transfer of responsibility was announced quietly in a Memorandum of Understanding between the two bodies on December 16, 2013, just days before the Joint Review Panel released its recommendation on the Northern Gateway Pipeline project. It’s a decision that places the protection of fish and fish habitat into the hands of an oil-friendly regulatory body, a move that has alarmed environmental groups and conservationists.

Five Reasons to Speak Out on Dismantling of Canada’s Environmental Laws
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Five Reasons to Speak Out on Dismantling of Canada’s Environmental Laws

Right now, Parliament is pushing through a bill to weaken most of the country’s most important environmental protection measures and silence Canadians who want to defend them. Far from a traditional budget bill, this "statutory juggernaut", amends, or repeals nearly 70 federal laws -- and instead of using the usual process for sweeping changes, which allows for thorough debate, these changes are being shoehorned into law in a way that could be without precedent.
It's time to speak out. Many groups and charitable organizations who are devoted to the cause of nature conservation have launched Black Out Speak Out -- and we hope many more individuals and organizations who cherish both nature and democracy will join us.
Here are the top five reasons to Speak Out:
  1. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is being replaced with a totally new law, which is weaker. It’s also being done retroactively—so projects in the works, like the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, could get an easier ride.  Under it, Ottawa will play a much smaller role in protecting people from many harmful projects.  But it retains the right to basically rubber-stamp big projects that powerful oil interests want.
  2. Citizen groups could well be shut out of environmental reviews of big projects like oil pipelines. Key government agencies with expertise will also have less input. Backroom and political operatives will have more.
  3. The government is adding $8 million in new funding for the Canada Revenue Agency to audit charities – including environmental groups – because they use their legal right to advocate for things like fighting global warming. This will have a chill effect on democratic debate.
  4. Right now, the National Energy Board decides whether major energy projects should go ahead, especially big ones involving oil.  The government is taking away that authority and giving it to Cabinet instead – so politicians can overrule the expert energy regulator if they don't like their decision.  Permits that allow the destruction of habitat for fish and threatened or endangered species will now be issued behind closed doors without public scrutiny.
  5. Many lakes, rivers and streams that provide habitat to fish will be at greater risk of destruction. Healthy fish habitat is important for fish and for the people and businesses that depend on them.

The results are in! Canadians don’t want their water bodies wasted, even at the expense of jobs
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The results are in! Canadians don’t want their water bodies wasted, even at the expense of jobs

Image of a canoe on a lakeWhat do you think about metal mining companies getting an 'okay' from government to destroy water bodies with toxic mine tailings?
If you're thinking "I disagree with that!" then you share an opinion with 96% of Canadians, according to the results of a Léger Marketing national opinion poll* commissioned by Nature Canada earlier this month.
Perhaps it comes as no surprise to you that Canadians overwhelmingly oppose the a legal loophole that permits metal mining companies to dump mine waste into natural lakes. The opinion poll showed that 96% of Canadians either "somewhat" or "strongly" disagree with metal mining companies converting natural water bodies into ‘impoundment areas’ for toxic mine tailings using the Schedule 2 loophole in the federal Metal Mining Effluent Regulations (created under the Fisheries Act). Without the Schedule 2 loophole, which is actually a list of water bodies in which tailings of any toxicity can be deposited, this practice of wasting lakes would otherwise contravene the Fisheries Act.
Another amazing result from the poll showed that even in these difficult economic times, nearly all Canadians are more concerned with protecting natural water bodies than they are the potential cancellation of a valuable mining project. Fully 98% of respondents stated they would still be opposed to dumping waste in a lake even if prohibiting the practice meant a mine project – and the associated jobs – might be cancelled.
I think these results overwhelmingly demonstrate that Canadians love their waterscapes. Water bodies define Canada culturally, spiritually, historically and emotionally and are readily accessible to all Canadians. Lakes and waterways shape our nation literally and figuratively. For these and many other reasons, Canadians inherently recognize that purposely destroying a living lake with toxic waste just isn’t responsible.
Image of a tree and a lakeLet us know what you think about this, too. Sign the Love My Lake Declaration now and tell us about your favourite water body and why it should never be deliberately polluted. We're also inviting 'lake-lovers' to put a face on their declaration by submitting a 'video signature'**.
What worries Nature Canada and others about the Schedule 2 loophole is that wasting natural water bodies seems to be turning into a normal part of business for mining companies. One of our key concerns with this loophole is that it overlooks the true ecological value and function of Canada’s water bodies. As a result, we're running the Stop Wasting Our Lakes campaign to engage Canadians on this issue and encourage government to close the “Schedule 2 loophole”. You should check it out, and consider tweeting about it or liking the campaign on Facebook.
In the face of lots of recent media on the weakening of Canada's important environmental regulations, our poll results are a clear indication that Canadians value their lakes, rivers and wetlands over development at any cost, and government needs to listen. Again, help us send this message by signing the Love My Lake Declaration, or by sending us a video signature**.
The poll also suggested that Canadians expect more cooperation and innovation between industry and government to find better tailings disposal solutions. A full 67% of poll respondents said alternatives to lake disposal should be explored or developed in order for mining projects to proceed.
And don't forget: signing the Love My Lake Declaration is a great gift to the Earth if you forgot to celebrate Earth Day yesterday! ----- *Léger Marketing polled 1, 507 Canadians between April 2 and April 4. **To send a video signature for the Love My Lake Declaration, please contact us first at admin (at) stopwastingourlakes.ca and we'll help you from there!

Lake Killing Made Easy
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Lake Killing Made Easy

[caption id="attachment_25808" align="alignleft" width="300"]dead fish body in contaminated river. environmental concept. dead fish body in contaminated river. environmental concept.[/caption]
Given his growing reputation as a national public voice on the special relationship Canadians have with their lakes, Nature Canada approached Allan Casey to ask for his view on the Schedule 2 loophole in the federal Fisheries Act. This opinion piece, first published in the Tyee, expresses Allan’s view on that loophole.Here’s a very Canuck fantasy for tax season. Imagine you had a gold mine of your very own. Let’s say you’ve got a little lakefront place and one day last summer while skipping stones with the kids you discovered gold (substitute copper, nickel or marketable metal of your choice). Since you wisely acquired mineral rights, you can start digging this year. The trouble is, for every hundredweight of ore you haul up and process, 95 to 99.9 percent of it will become a soggy, leaky, acutely toxic pile of waste. Where should you put this?The last thing you’d do to solve this uniquely Canadian problem is to dump the toxic mess into your pretty little lake — where your kids swim, where the pickerel or trout are plentiful.Yet that is precisely the new trend in Canadian mining. Exploiting a loophole in the  Fisheries Act, mining companies — with the full blessing of the federal government — are permanently destroying pristine fish-bearing lakes by turning them into waste dumps.With the arrival of Canada Water Week, we in this lucky land must remind ourselves that we are stewards of the greatest lakefront property in the world. Collectively, we citizens of this freshwater country also happen to be mineral-rich. Sadly, our old-school government is incapable of exploiting the latter wealth without destroying the former. Under the little-known Schedule 2 of The Metal Mining Effluent Regulations, healthy wild lakes are being reclassified as “tailings impoundment areas.” The effluent regulations were created to protect Canadian waters, not destroy them. When the Liberal government revised the regulations in 2002, Schedule 2 was a last-minute grandfather clause to legitimize five already-polluted lakes. Since 2006, the Harper government has used Schedule 2 to sanction the destruction of no less than eight healthy, wild lakes or waterbodies, and grandfathered another six already-polluted ones. Mining companies stand to gain enormous cost savings via Schedule 2 “exceptions.” No need to build expensive tailings containments from scratch if the government will let you just dump your industrial waste in a nearby lake and be done with it. Bizarrely, the mining industry would have Canadians believe that purposely destroying pure Canadian lakes is somehow environmentally responsible. Natural lakes make “safer” containments, they argue, than any structure they could build. This cynical doublespeak merely clouds the ugly truth — that Schedule 2 is a quick and dirty means to profit. It all sounds implausible. But the recent decision to give Taseko Mines Ltd. a second environmental review for its already-discredited Prosperity Mine proposal in central British Columbia shows how far we have moved toward making lake-killing standard practice for Canadian mining in the 21rst century. In 2010, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency rejected Taseko’s proposal to build a $1billion gold-copper mine in the South Chilcotin. Under Schedule 2 fine print, beautiful Fish Lake would have been drained and destroyed forever. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Tsilhqot'in National Government whose vehement protests no doubt swayed the review panel. Now Taskeo is back with an almost identical proposal that would spare Fish Lake but still destroy Little Fish Lake, a smaller waterbody upstream. Meanwhile, across the country, the coalition called the Sandy Pond Alliance is awaiting their day in federal court, hoping to have Schedule 2 ruled in contravention of the Fisheries Act. Even if they win, it might be too late to save trout-rich Sandy Pond itself from becoming a nickel tailings pit for Vale Inco. The number of waterbodies threatened by Schedule 2 is not easy to get. Neither Environment Canada nor Fisheries and Oceans publishes a simple list. Thanks to the vigilance of folks at NGOs who painstakingly track mining sector environmental reviews, it is known that 20 water bodies are already destroyed or in-process under Schedule 2. What began as handful of one-time exceptions is an emerging business trend. Alexander MacDonald of Nature Canada estimates that about one-in-six of Canada’s metal mines have already sought protection under Schedule 2. Taking a stand against this dangerous precedent alongside many environmental and social justice groups, Nature Canada has launched a campaign called Stop Wasting Our Lakes. Mining companies see plainly that government environmental stewardship in Canada is being torn asunder by the Harper government. They know that the demoralized rank and file at Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries labour under gag orders. They are emboldened by our departure from Kyoto. They see the time is ripe for sophistry, a chance to turn back the clock on our hard-won environmental law. We citizens cannot allow our government to re-label pieces of the legally protected biosphere simply to have them destroyed for profit. It threatens more than just lakes, but the whole human-nature sphere. Schedule 2 belongs in the nineteenth-century. We might just as well re-start the bison slaughter. In 2012, Canadians will no longer accept permanent environmental damage as the cost of transient corporate profit. Allan Casey is the author of Lakeland: Ballad of a Freshwater Country (Greystone Books), which won the 2010 Governor General’s Literary Award for nonfiction. He lives in Saskatoon.

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