Until 2012, the Fisheries Act was Canada’s most powerful water protection law. It dated back to the country’s earliest days and protected our nation’s most important natural resource: the waterways that sustain life and our economy.
The Government of Canada introduced sweeping changes the law through an omnibus bill in 2012. The changes weakened the Fisheries Act for all Canadians, creating new ways to exempt industries and activities from federal water protection rules.
On February 15, 2014 the Department of Fisheries and Oceans published a proposed regulation under the Fisheries Act (the “Act”). The proposed regulation reveals how the Act will evolve in the aftermath of the 2012 amendments. It's bad news.
Gone is the clarity and consistency of the original Act. The old Act simply prohibited harm to fish, fish habitat, and waters frequented by fish in Canada. In its wake is a clumsy, bureaucratic, contradictory regulatory scheme that makes it virtually impossible for any government regulator - federal, provincial, or territorial - to fulfil the purpose of the Act (i.e., “provide for the sustainability and ongoing productivity of commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fisheries”).
This issue is of importance to Canadians and, indeed, to the global community. For example, the Great Lakes alone constitute 21% of global surface freshwater; the migrating American Eel and Salmon populations that rely on Canadian waterways for survival also migrate to other jurisdictions. In this light, the federal government has a distinct and important obligation to responsibly steward these global resources.