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Bring back fish habitat protection: New report calls for changes to Fisheries Act

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The Council of Canadians endorses the West Coast Environmental Law report calling for the changes to the Fisheries Act made under the Harper government to be immediately repealed.

The 16-page report concludes:

"The Fisheries Act is the key federal law for fish habitat protection, one of the key laws for marine biodiversity, and an essential part of Canada's environmental safety net. We recommend these amendments to improve fish and fish habitat protection throughout Canada. All improvements should be based on science, Indigenous and community knowledge and the precautionary principle, and only occur with the participation of Indigenous peoples, the public and stakeholder groups."

Staff counsel Linda Nowlan says, "Healthy habitat, healthy fish. Loss of habitat, loss of fish."

In March 2015, the Council of Canadians released a report -- Blue Betrayal: The Harper government's assault on Canada's freshwater by Maude Barlow -- that examined then-prime minister Stephen Harper's record on freshwater protection. In that report, Barlow highlighted:

  • The Harper government allowed a loophole in the Metal Mining Effluent Regulation of the Fisheries Act to give the green light to mining companies to dump their toxic waste into lakes. Environment Canada has released the names of 29 natural water bodies that mining companies have applied to use as toxic waste dumps.
  • The government further gutted the Fisheries Act by allowing the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to authorize the dumping of deleterious substances into water inhabited by fish as long as that deposit does not kill more than 50 per cent of the fish at 100 per cent concentration over a 96-hour period.

We have also written letters twice on this issue.

In March 2014, before Justin Trudeau became prime minister, Council of Canadians water campaigner Emma Lui wrote him to say:

"The 2012 omni-budget bills implemented sweeping changes to environmental laws and removed critical safeguards for water protection. The omni-budget bills cancelled 3,000 federal environmental assessments under Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, gutted the Fisheries Act, and abdicated responsibility for 99% of lakes and rivers by overhauling the Navigable Waters Protection Act. ...Will you roll back the changes the Harper government made to environmental legislation and recommit funds needed for water research?"

In November 2015, just after the election, Lui wrote environment minister Catherine McKenna to affirm:

"We believe that fully restoring the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Fisheries Act, as well as developing further measures to ensure the protection of rivers, lakes and waterways from pollution, extraction and harm will contribute to making environmental and water oversight credible again."

Earlier this month we launched our #Pledge2Protect campaign.

Through that campaign we have been asking our supporters to, "Contact your local MP and urge them to restore freshwater protections. Schedule a meeting with your MP to talk about water and ask them to sign our #Pledge2Protect Lakes and Rivers." And we have promoted this action alert that calls for letters to be sent to the prime minister and MPs with these three demands:

  • commit immediate federal funding for new water infrastructure and upgrades to end the drinking water crisis in First Nations and address the stressed water situation in hundreds of communities across Canada
  • restore and strengthen the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Fisheries Act and Navigable Waters Protection Act
  • create a new Minister of Water to develop a 21st-century action plan for water -- in consultation with civil society and with the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous communities -- that enshrines the long-term protection and recognition of water as a human right.

And in numerous blogs we have reminded our readers that the Liberal election platform stated, "Stephen Harper's changes to the Fisheries Act, and his elimination of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, have weakened environmental protections. We will review these changes, restore lost protections, and incorporate more modern safeguards."

The Globe and Mail notes:

"When [Hunter] Tootoo was appointed Fisheries Minister, Trudeau gave him a mandate letter that required him to review the act and to consult about changes with indigenous people, provincial governments, industry and conservation groups. The minister couldn't be reached for comment [on March 22], but in an email, he said he is working on a review of the legislation. 'I take very seriously my mandate from the Prime Minister to restore lost protections of the Fisheries Act that were enacted by the previous government and look forward to consulting with scientists, environmentalists and indigenous peoples in finding the best path forward to safeguard our oceans and waterways,' Mr. Tootoo stated."

To read the West Coast Environmental Law report Scaling Up The Fisheries Act: Restoring lost protections and incorporating modern safeguards, please click here.

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