The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) announced that it is launching an investigation following allegations that Canada is failing to enforce the Fisheries Act by allowing PCBs to leak into the St. Lawrence River near Old Montreal.
The allegations were made by a coalition of Canadian and U.S. nonprofit organizations in August, 2003. Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance, and partner organizations provided evidence that PCBs had been leaking from the Technoparc site into the St. Lawrence River for at least three years (fall, 2000).
Environment Canada defended its failure to complete an investigation or lay charges in a statement submitted to the CEC in November, 2003. This week, the CEC ruled that Environment Canada's statement, "left open central questions" and ordered the creation of a factual record.
The CEC has indicated that its factual record will outline Environment Canada's actions in response to the PCB leak. Its investigation will uncover how this kind of contamination occurs despite strong laws.
"The CEC's finding in this case is groundbreaking, because the NAFTA body will determine whether Canada is ignoring its own clean water laws," says Mark Mattson, an environmental lawyer who investigated the Technoparc site.
"The PCBs continue to leak into the river every day, and Environment Canada knows it. The Fisheries Act clearly prohibits this kind of pollution."
The CEC's investigation is unique, because it is the first such investigation into water pollution in an urban setting.
"Montreal is one of Canada's largest, most important cities," says Mattson. "For the first time, residents in urban centres will see whether they have the same rights to clean water as the rest of the country."
The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) is an international organization created to address regional environmental concerns, help prevent potential trade and environmental conflicts, and to promote the effective enforcement of environmental law. Its work is intended to complement the environmental provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Mark Mattson is president of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and an investigator of the Technoparc site. Other submitters include Waterkeeper Alliance, Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper, and Societe pour Vaincre la Pollution.
Background documents available at www.cec.org