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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 "Canada's only law for reducing greenhouse gases was repealed, thousands of environmental assessments were eliminated, and our legal protection of fish, lakes and rivers were significantly weakened.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

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Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?

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