Canada Is Violating Obligations to International Environmental Laws, Says WCEL

Lawyers for West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL) sent an open letter to the NAFTA-affiliated Commission for Environmental Protection (CEC) Wednesday, claiming Canada is "in violation of its obligations under the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation."

WCEL is urging also Canadians to write to the CEC and "tell them loud and clear that the Canadian government's recent attacks on environmental laws are a subsidy to the oil and gas and other industries and, as a result, we have failed to live up to our international commitments."

The North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC) is the environmental accord made parallel to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

The NAAEC established the CEC "to support cooperation among the NAFTA partners to address environmental issues of continental concern, including the environmental challenges and opportunities presented by continent-wide free trade."

The open letter comes in response to an invitation for comment from the CEC, which is marking its 20th anniversary by conducting a public review of NAFTA and NAAEC to "determine their effectiveness in fostering environmental protection and improvement in North America," according to a release from West Coast Environmental Law. A Joint Public Advisory Committee is currently accepting comments from the public.

"The environmental side-agreement was meant to ensure that NAFTA did not result in an incentive to weaken environmental laws at the request of industry, and an environmental race to the bottom," says Andrew Gage, Staff Counsel, West Coast Environmental Law. Gage thinks the CEC's public review is an opportunity for "Canadians to tell the Commission that that's just what has happened in Canada in recent years."

West Coast Environmental Law is positing that amendments made to Canada's environmental laws by the Harper government in the 2012 omnibus budget bills C-38 and C-45 have led to a "weakening of environmental protections contrary to the NAFTA side-agreement."

"Bills C-38 and C-45 gutted environmental protection in Canada," says Gage. "Canada's only law for reducing greenhouse gases was repealed, thousands of environmental assessments were eliminated, and our legal protection of fish, lakes and rivers were significantly weakened. That's not improvement, it's a backward slide."

West Coast Environmental Law is asking Canadians to join them in writing to the CEC, to ensure that Canada does not become a "NAFTA pollution haven."

Image: West Coast Environmental Law

Indrapramit Das is a freelance writer, critic and artist. His work has appeared in Slant Magazine, Vancouver Weekly, Strange Horizons…

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