Help for Fraser River Sockeye: Environmental Watchdog to Investigate Metro’s Sewage Treatment Record
Vancouver: The Commission on Environmental Co-operation announced today that it will investigate allegations regarding Metro Vancouver’s Iona sewage treatment facility, at the request of environmental groups across North America, who were asking that body to investigate Canada’s failure to enforce environmental laws against Metro Vancouver’s sewage treatment authority.
The Commission, set up under the North American Free Trade Agreement, has authority to investigate wherever a member nation is failing to live up to its own environmental laws. Fraser Riverkeeper and the David Suzuki Foundation, working with Waterkeeper Alliance groups throughout North America, filed a complaint with the Commission in April, 2010, based on Canada’s failure to enforce the Fisheries Act against the Iona Sewage Treatment Facility in the Fraser River.
“The Iona facility continues to this day to fail its toxicity tests,” said Doug Chapman, Fraser Riverkeeper. “That means that the discharge from the plant kills fish: the very Fraser River sockeye stocks whose alarmingly low numbers are currently the subject of the Cohen Commission hearings in Vancouver.”
Fraser Riverkeeper Doug Chapman is a former environmental prosecutor for the Province of Ontario, who had earlier pressed charges against the Iona plant and the governments that failed to enforce environmental standards. The criminal proceedings were subsequently taken over and stayed by the federal government, on the grounds that it was “not in the public interest” to enforce the law against this chronic offender.
“The Iona facility provides only primary treatment of sewage,” said John Werring, a biologist with the David Suzuki Foundation. “That means it’s screened and settled, but still essentially raw sewage. It robs the receiving water of oxygen, causing the fish to suffocate.” Werring provided evidence for the criminal proceedings, explaining how the Iona plant had discharged “substances deleterious to fish” into the Strait of Georgia, contrary to the Fisheries Act.
After the federal government had stayed the charges against Iona, effectively allowing it to continue to break the law, Fraser Riverkeeper prepared the complaint to the CEC as a measure of last resort.
“If we are not permitted to enforce Canadian law in Canadian courtrooms, our only recourse is to look to the promises made to our trading partners when NAFTA was signed,” said Chapman.
“Canada promised to enforce its environmental standards and helped create the Commission on Environmental Co-operation to oversee that promise on behalf of all partners. The Commission’s decision to investigate our complaint gives us some hope that Canada will be forced to act to protect the Fraser River and its precious salmon.” Canada has 30 days to respond to the Commission.
Contact: Doug Chapman, Fraser Riverkeeper 604-646-0477 or Karen Wristen 604-788-5634
Mark Mattson, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper: 416-861-1237
John Werring, David Suzuki Foundation: 604-306-0517
Read the backgrounder here.