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Media Release

Submission filed with the CEC asserts that Canada is failing to enforce the Fisheries Act with respect to Tailings Ponds

Montreal, 7 July 2017—The Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) received on June 26 a submission asserting that Canada is failing to effectively enforce a pollution prevention provision of the Canadian federal Fisheries Act (the “Fisheries Act”) with respect to alleged leaking of deleterious substances from oil sands tailings ponds operations in the province of Alberta, Canada.

Filed by Environmental Defence, the Natural Resources Defense Council and a resident in Canada, the submission, SEM-17-001 (Alberta Tailings Ponds II), alleges that tailings ponds resulting from the extraction of bitumen from mined oil sands deposits in northern Alberta “contain a large variety of substances that are deleterious to fish”, including naphthenic acids which are “of particular concern not just because of their toxicity, but also of their longevity, taking many decades to break down”. The Submitter further alleges that tailings ponds currently leak four billion liters (1 billion gallons) of process wastewater into various specified surface watercourses and groundwater each year. The Submitter also asserts that Canada is failing to effectively enforce section 36(3) of the Fisheries Act because “it has neither prosecuted any company for documented surface water contamination, nor has it pursued regulation governing tailings pond leakage.”

In 2010 a related submission, SEM-10-002 (Alberta Tailings Ponds), was filed with the Secretariat and, in January 2015, the Council unanimously instructed the Secretariat not to prepare a factual record. In reasons accompanying the Council resolution, Canada and Mexico found that a criminal complaint filed by a private citizen before the Alberta Provincial Court concerning matters related to the submission constituted a pending proceeding under the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), notice of which required the Secretariat to proceed no further with the submission.

The CEC Secretariat is reviewing SEM-17-001 to determine whether it meets the criteria for submissions set out in Article 14 of the NAAEC.

Public Submissions Process

The CEC SEM Process

The CEC Submissions on Enforcement Matters process supports public participation, information-sharing between governments and the public, and transparency and openness in the effective enforcement of environmental law in North America. If you have reason to believe that an environmental law is not being effectively enforced by Canada, Mexico or the United States, the SEM process may address your concerns.

As of 1 July 2020, the CEC’s SEM process is governed by USMCA Articles 24.27 and 24.28 of the Environment Chapter of the free trade agreement between Canada, Mexico and the United States (CUSMA, T-MEC, USMCA).

Want to learn more about the SEM process? Please watch this two-minute video for an introduction:

The SEM Process