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Media Release

CEC receives a submission on polar bear protection

Montreal, 8 December 2011—On 5 December 2011, the Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) received a citizen submission filed by the Center for Biological Diversity (the “Submitter”). The Submitter asserts that Canada is failing to effectively enforce Canada’s Species at Risk Act (the “Act” or “SARA”) by failing to list the polar bear in a timely manner as a threatened or endangered species, “thus denying the bear any substantive legal protections under SARA.”

According to the Submitter, Canada’s polar bear population makes up about 60% of the world’s total population of 20,000 to 25,000 individuals. In Submission SEM-11-003 (Protection of Polar Bears), the Submitter alleges that the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (“COSEWIC”) has failed to consider the best available information about the status of the polar bear in Canada and as a result, has recommended to Canada that the polar bear be listed as a species of special concern. The Submitter alleges that based on the best available information, the polar bear should instead be listed as an endangered or as a threatened species. Among other alleged failures to effectively enforce SARA, the Submitter asserts that “COSEWIC entirely discounted the critical impact climate change will have on the species, in direct conflict with polar bear expert opinions.”

The Submitter further alleges that Canada’s Minister of the Environment (the “Minister”) violated the Act by missing deadlines in responding to COSEWIC’s recommendation. The Submitter moreover alleges that in November 2011 when the Minister eventually did recommend to the federal cabinet that the polar bear be listed as a species of special concern, the Minister violated the Act by basing his recommendation on COSEWIC’s allegedly “invalid and unlawful assessment.”

The Submitter asserts that “Canada has failed to list the polar bear as endangered or threatened, violating both the procedural and substantive provisions of SARA. Had Canada fully complied with SARA, the polar bear would have been listed as endangered two and a half years ago, and the species would be protected by a recovery strategy and have identified critical habitat by now.”

The CEC Secretariat is reviewing SEM-11-003 to determine whether it meets the criteria for submissions set out in Article 14 of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC).

NAAEC Articles 14 and 15 include procedures allowing private parties to make submissions to the CEC Secretariat asserting “that a Party [to the NAAEC] is failing to effectively enforce its environmental law.” The CEC has published “Guidelines for Submissions on Enforcement Matters” explaining these procedures.

In appropriate cases, and upon instruction from the CEC Council, the CEC Secretariat may examine a submission further and develop a factual record.

For more information, please visit the CEC’s “Citizen Submissions on Enforcement Matters” webpage, and the registry of Submission SEM-11-003 (Protection of Polar Bears).

About the CEC

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) was established in 1994 by the governments of Canada, Mexico and the United States through the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, a parallel environmental agreement to NAFTA. As of 2020, the CEC is recognized and maintained by the Environmental Cooperation Agreement, in parallel with the new Free Trade Agreement of North America. The CEC brings together a wide range of stakeholders, including the general public, Indigenous people, youth, nongovernmental organizations, academia, and the business sector, to seek solutions to protect North America’s shared environment while supporting sustainable development for the benefit of present and future generations

The CEC is governed and funded equally by the Government of Canada through Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Government of the United States of Mexico through the Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, and the Government of the United States of America through the Environmental Protection Agency.

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