The vast majority of Canada’s lakes and rivers lost important legal protection in 2012. Reductions in fish and fish habitat protections further puts those waterways at risk, as did the elimination of environmental assessments of a wide range of projects and activities.
With Bill C-45, the federal government changed the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which had provided protection for both navigation and Canada’s waterways since 1882, to the Navigation Protection Act, lifting legal protection from over 99% of Canada’s tens of thousands of lakes and rivers.
Amendments to the Fisheries Act reduced protection of fish habitat and eliminated protection of fish that do not belong to or support a fishery. As a result, more activities are occurring in riparian areas without the oversight of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, requirements to avoid potential impacts, or monitoring of actual harms that are occurring.
Waters are also made vulnerable by the significant reduction in environmental assessments by the federal government. Since it replaced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act with CEAA 2012, the federal government has stopped assessing the potential environmental impacts of approximately 90% of the activities for which it grants permits. Considered the “look before you leap” of environmental permitting, environmental assessments are a crucial means of identifying the potential adverse effects of development and how to mitigate or avoid those impacts. For example, a federal environmental assessment stopped Taseko Mines from using BC’s Fish Lake as a tailings pond, and a subsequent federal review protected the lake a second time, when a BC review gave the proposal a green light.