The Commission on Environmental Co-operation was established in 1994 so that proponents of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) could say that trade liberalization would be accompanied by environmental protection. It was meant to mitigate public concern about the trade deal by creating a mechanism that could look into public complaints about violations of national laws intended to protect the land, water and air. It was created through the side accord known as the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation.

In November 2013, the Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Pacific Coast Wild Salmon Society and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations brought forward a complaint that said the Harper government had violated Section 35 and 36 of the Fisheries Act by exposing wild salmon to parasites, disease, toxic chemicals and concentrated waste from fish farms.

The Canadian Press now reports, “Canada and Mexico voted against the investigation, while the United States wanted to pursue it. …The vote, which was taken five months after it was supposed to have been, ends the joint complaint… The investigation only proceeds if a majority of member nations approve it. The commission has little or no enforcement power even if it does conclude a nation isn’t living up to its environmental laws.” At best a factual record would have been written on the situation.

The article also notes, “Canada is facing another vote on an investigation into its environmental practices. Environmental groups and individuals say Canada is breaking the Fisheries Act by allowing an unknown amount of tailings from the [tar sands] to seep into groundwater. The deadline for that vote was supposed to have been Oct. 27.”

Between 1994 and 2012, 80 complaints have been filed with the commission. Eighty-five per cent of those submissions have been dismissed or terminated.

Meanwhile, the concerns of the Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation remain unresolved. And despite clear evidence of harm by fish farms to wild salmon, the Harper government is reviewing applications to expand the industry on the British Columbia coast.

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Brent Patterson

Brent Patterson is a political activist, writer and the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. He lives in Ottawa on the traditional, unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Algonquin...