Water is so important to Canada’s history, culture, and economy that many of our nation’s oldest laws were passed to protect waterways.
The Fisheries Act was intended to protect fish and the habitat that sustains water life.
The Navigable Waters Protection Act was intended to protect the rivers and lakes people have used for centuries to travel from one part of Canada to another.
In the 1970s, “environmentalism” became a popular movement. That’s when governments around the world created environment departments and passed modern environmental laws.
Here in Canada, new rules were created to help officials and the public make decisions about if, where, and how to handle massive modern developments that could harm air or water. Those rules were entrenched in laws like the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
Canada’s Constitution and political traditions give the federal government authority over certain issues, such as fisheries. For decades, federal environmental laws were powerful tools to ensure that the government upheld its duty to Canadians and our natural resources.
In recent years, the federal government has thoroughly and systematically re-written virtually every Canadian environmental law. Unfortunately, most of these changes were made with little opportunity for public involvement and against the advice of legal and scientific experts. The changes were included in very long budget bills, making it virtually impossible for Canadians or for the media to study.
In the coming years, the new fisheries, navigation, and decision-making rules will come into force. Canada’s legal landscape will change significantly. New court cases will help make new case law. An entirely new approach to environmental law will emerge.
Given our expertise and experience, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper intends to be part of this new world. We intend to give meaning and force - wherever possible - to the new rules, because we believe that clear and consistent laws are essential for a swimmable, drinkable, fishable future.
In June 2017, the Government of Canada released a Discussion Paper asking Canadians to submit comments that will improve federal protections for the environment. The Paper marks the one-year mark in an ongoing review of environmental assessment, energy, nuclear, fisheries, and navigation laws in Canada. Our response focuses on our high-level response to the Discussion Paper. In particular, we share our concerns about the lack of progress being made to protect navigation rights in Canada.
Sweeping changes made to the Fisheries Act in 2012 radically reduced protections for fish, fish habitat, and water across Canada. The federal government initiated a review of the act in 2016, including online consultations and a Standing Committee hearing. The Government of Canada released its official report in June 2017, promising more consultation and changes to the legislation.