Waterkeepers from across Canada gathered last week for the Annual Canadian Waterkeeper conference. The Fundy Baykeeper hosted the two-day conference held in St. Andrews, New Brunswick on Passamaquoddy Bay. In addition to two days of meetings with representatives ranging from the Fraser River in British Columbia to the Grand River in Happy Valley Goose Bay, Labrador, the event was capped off with a presentation by Steve Fleischli, Executive Director of the Waterkeeper Alliance.
Since its Canadian inception in 1999, the Waterkeeper movement has become a potent force for winning back our environmental rights to safely swim, fish and drink our waters. With experience, visibility and success, Canadian Waterkeepers have emerged as a model for environmental justice at the grassroots. At this year's conference, plans were made to strengthen existing programs, collaborate on national issues and expand the reach of the Clean Water Workshop.
One of the most talked about issues this year was the threat from public and private corporations to weaken Canada's most powerful environmental law: the Fisheries Act. Across Canada, Waterkeeper groups had countless examples of industry complaining that the Fisheries Act is too strict and needs fixing. In all cases, the industry mantra is to modernize the Fisheries Act and to make it more efficient.
Fortunately, Canadian Waterkeepers are pioneers in enforcing the Fisheries Act. Many examples were discussed which belie the industry's contention that the Act does not work. Further, despite promises for greater protection, most of the amendments make illegal pollution legal and threaten the 35 year tradition of judicial interpretation that the Fisheries Act is a pollution prohibition statute.
Lobbying against the Fisheries Act is intended to divide communities by offering a false choice between clean water and economic prosperity. However, it only strengthens the desire of Canadian Waterkeepers to give meaning and force to this vital environmental law.
At the closing session, Steve Fleischli underscored the importance of Waterkeepers' difficult job in enforcing our environmental laws now and not passing the responsibility off to another generation. While acknowledging that environmental justice is not always a popular topic, he pointedly reminded everyone that "the more we delay taking action to avoid insulting anyone, the more we end up insulting our children.
To learn more about Canadian Waterkeepers go here.
To learn more about attacks to the Fisheries Act go here