Are your favourite water-ways protected?

On Monday October 29th, the Canadian Freshwater Alliance hosted an online webinar to discuss the impacts of the Omnibus Budget Bill C45 on the Navigable Waters Protection Act – which would be renamed “the Navigation Protection Act”.

Watch the recording of the presentations made by Will Amos of EcoJustice and Jessica Clog of West Coast Environmental Law.

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Bill C-45 Webinar 12-10-29 3.09 PM from Lindsay Telfer on Vimeo.

Though it’s always hard to summarize in 5 points or less, here’s my attempt to highlight some of the primary messages emerging from the discussion:

1. The right to Navigation is a founding principle in Canada and has always had the benefit of priority protection in Canadian Law. These proposed changes limits this right to a limited and seemingly random list of 3 oceans, 97 lakes and portions of 62 rivers. With over 30,000 lakes alone, this represents less then 1% of the total waterways in Canada.

2. The proposed changes represent a significant move to deregulation, with the removal of “Waters” from the Acts title signalling a clear departure from a regime that protected both navigation and waters to one that protects only navigation.

3. The exclusion of pipelines from the act is one of the clearest examples of how these regulatory changes have been orchestrated in a way to remove barriers to tar sands infrastructure projects.

4. Bill C-45 improperly shifts the federal government’s responsibility to enforce the law onto citizens. Common law will now act as a safety net for this new less comprehensive navigable regime, which according to EcoJustice, “places the risk and burden on groups and citizens by encouraging them to behave in litigious behaviour” as a means of resolving issues. Citizens will be forced to pay out of their own pockets to bring lawsuits against the federal government or project proponents.

5. The deregulation proposed by the NPA could have significant impacts for aboriginal rights. According to EcoJustice’s brief, the Crown has a duty to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate aboriginal peoples where the Crown is contemplating conduct that could adversely impact aboriginal rights, no such duty lies on private entities. Since the NPA would remove all government “conduct” from decision-making for non-listed navigable waters, it is possible that unregulated projects interfering with navigation could also negatively impact aboriginal rights without any consultation or accommodation.

So, the inevitable question remains – whatever can be done in our communities to respond to these changes? Firstly, all those living in ‘unlisted’ waters could be contacting their elected representatives detailing concerns and requesting inclusion. Would love to hear your plans or ideas on possible next steps?

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