Canada is a country woven together by the lakes and rivers that span the land from coast-to-coast-to-coast. It is in these waters where we have learned to swim, paddle and to fish. But much more than that, waterways across the country form a key pillar for community, economic, and physical health.

In 2012, changes made to one of Canada’s oldest laws, the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) eliminated protection for over 99% of Canada’s waterways. Under the Navigation Protection Act (NPA) just 64 rivers, 97 lakes, and the three oceans are protected from development that restricts their navigability.

The NWPA was a key environmental piece of legislation used to protect water flows from impacts of extraction and development. For the millions of lakes, rivers, and streams that lost protection, a permit is no longer needed to build bridges or structures that could intercept their flow. Under the NPA only a tiny fraction, 1% of Canada’s rivers and lakes, are listed “scheduled waters” for protection. 

In February 2018, the federal government introduced Bill C-69 and a new Canadian Navigable Waters Act. The new legislation does once again require approval for major works on navigable waters--which is an improvement but does not restore protections in full for the environmental, social, and cultural value of ALL navigable waters. Bill C-69 is currently before the Senate, and the oil and gas industry is lobbing to kill the needed environmental law reform.

You can help #PassBill69 and ensure that no waters are left behind! 



What Changed in 2012?

  • Millions of waterways lost protection

  • Focus of law shifts from protecting navigable waters to protecting navigation

  • Before the 2012 Omnibus Bill C-45 all dams, pipelines, and activities that could block navigation needed approval from the Transport Minister

  • Only a short list of lakes and rivers – under 1% of Canada’s waterways - require government review of developments that could impair their flow

  • The 2012 Bill C-38, de-coupled projects regulated under the NWPA from requiring an environmental assessment


How Does this Impact Me?

  • Century-old public rights to navigation lost on millions of rivers.

  • This reduced federal protection means an individual or group that depends on a waterway for recreation or livelihood must go to court to challenge development that impedes navigability.

  • Your right to enjoy rivers whose waters flow clean, also ensures deer can drink from their shores, and fish can continue to swim their lengths.


How Would Bill C-69 Improve Environmental Laws?

If passed, the Canadian Navigable Waters Act would restore some lost protections:

  • Large dams and other major works on all navigable waterway in Canada will require approval;
  • The Minister must consider Indigenous traditional knowledge and funding towards a renewed nation-to-nation relationship; 
  • A public registry will enhance transparency on projects under review, approved and/or declined under the Act;
  • A requirement to notify the public before construction begins on all navigable waters;
  • A better process with criteria to identify navigable waters that should be added to the Schedule and receive extra oversight.

Past Campaigns

We asked people to help expand the list of waters protected by nominating their favourite waterway and showing that they want protections restored for all navigable waters in Canada!

Nominate your cherished lake or river for legal protection.

Write a letter-to-the-editor and make navigation protections news!

Ask your MP to fix navigation protection!