MPs and Senators Take Their Seats! #LetsFlow #BillC69

This week in Ottawa, the House of Commons and the Upper Chamber (fancy speak for the Senate) resume sitting. So where does that leave us with environmental law reform?


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The Canadian Navigable Waters Act flows through parliament


The Canadian Freshwater Alliance has been busy tracking Bill C-69 through parliament. Together with you, we proposed amendments that would strengthen the protection of navigable waters in Canada. Today, Bill C-69 - which includes the Canadian Navigable Waters Act, passed third reading in the House of Commons. The legislation still needs to pass the Senate before the law can take force.

Significant effort was made to strike a balance that would restore and modernize the Act. The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development worked until midnight on the final day of clause-by-clause to vote through amendments in late May. Unfortunately, many amendments not accepted by the committee could have strengthened the Act considerably.

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Nahanni River of Forgiveness: An epic journey, a story of reconnection and reconciliation

This piece is a guest blog by Geoff Bowie, director and co-producer of the Nahanni River of Forgiveness Documentary. The Nahanni River currently lacks protections as a navigable water that is excluded from the schedule of the Navigation Protection Act. 


A large hand-made boat of moose skin and spruce surges through the white water of the Nahanni River in Canada’s Northwest Territories.  Dene men and women work the oars and rudder, remaking a historic journey through a wild and sacred landscape. Nahanni River of Forgiveness is about climbing out of the ashes of colonialism to build a bonfire of hope for equality, respect, and protection of the earth.

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Does Bill C-69 impede science by fogging the link between the environment and navigable waters?

Want to take action to defend freshwater? Write your MP and the parliamentary committee before amendments are finalized. 


It is often said that water knows no political boundaries. The same waters that float a canoe, provide water for deer to drink, and for fish to swim. However, the political pen can fail to account for the full value of rivers.

Truth has become an elusive commodity in the era of “fake news”. What used to be scientific fact is now open to speculation. This trend has extended to Canada’s federal environmental laws - in particular to protecting the public’s right of navigation and navigable waters. Navigation safety requires protection from physical obstructions in the water, but also from the dumping of harmful substances, or the dewatering of navigable waters. Federal decisions about projects obstructing navigation would impact the physical, biological, and chemical function of water flows. The link between the environment and navigable water protections should not be up for dispute.



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What you had to say about navigable water protections

When it comes to protecting Canada’s rivers and lakes we are all in the same canoe. Together we have nominated over 200 unlisted waterways for protection, wrote to over 110 MPs, and requested meetings with elected representatives to ask that they restore protections for navigable waters. But there is more to do!

That is why, earlier this year, we reached out to our most active supporters to learn how you want to continue to engage and mobilize. And you responded with opinions, hopes, and priorities for the protection of navigable waters.  

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Picturing Environmental Law Reform

We have put together a few infographics to help you understand the impact of changes to navigable water protections over time.

Please share these with your family and friends and make sure that the damage to environmental laws is not forgotten, and that promises to restore environmental protections are kept. Help us track the conversation with the hashtag #getNPAright 



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Recommendations to parliamentary committee reviewing Bill C-69

Bill C-69 is being pushed through parliamentary Committee hearings at an unprecedented rate. We are worried that parts of this Bill, and especially those related to Navigable Waters, will go without adequate review and improvement. That is why we are calling on the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development to allocate time for each proposed Act within Bill C-69.

On April 6th, the Canadian Freshwater Alliance provided a written submission to the Committee focussing on amendments to strengthen the proposed Canadian Navigable Waters Act.

See the full Canadian Freshwater Alliance submission here.


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Hap Wilson: Building Access to Water and Defending an Age-old Human Right

This piece is a guest blog by author, explorer, and trail builder Hap Wilson as part of our series weaving together the cultural, environmental, and historic significance of Canada’s navigable waters.


It is the duty of the federal government to protect the public right of all Canadians to navigate waterways in a fair and transparent manner. This sole authority over navigation is granted under Section 91(10) of the Canadian Constitution.


One hundred years ago, the Privy Council established the “floating canoe” test for navigability -this protected the public's right to navigate any waterway that could literally float a canoe. This definition included not only known navigable waters, but the future use of ‘potential’ waterways.


In 2012, this was all flushed down the toilet in order to placate the avaricious demands of corporate interests. Yet, we were getting it all wrong even before those century-old rules were cut-down behind closed doors.


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Environmental laws get a tweak with Bill C-69: navigable waters in need of a full fix

There are a few important items that you may have missed in last weeks 341 page environmental omnibus Bill C-69. To date, the majority of the public coverage on the Bill has been around environmental assessment and energy regulation. But anyone who is a recreational water enthusiast or concerned about environmental flows, has an interest in the third part of the act that amends navigation protection (which protects waterways from obstructions). Here we’ve broken down some of the big changes.

Tip for readers: Our analysis of this Bill and all its implications is ongoing and we will post our analysis as well as key asks in the weeks and months ahead as we track this Bill in Ottawa through the House of Commons. For a snapshot, check out the TL;DR (too long; didn’t read).

Why amendments must go beyond restoring what was lost

The 2012 amendments to the Navigable Waters Protections Act (NWPA) stripped protections from 99% of waters by eliminating environmental assessment requirements and narrowing federal government oversight to an exclusive list or Schedule under the Navigation Protection Act (NPA). This meant that approvals for projects on scheduled waters would not trigger a look at environmental impacts. By reducing federal oversight to a short-list of waters on the schedule the vast majority of our lakes and rivers lost regulatory protection. For the majority of waters, the public right to navigation was left to the public to defend in court.

A look at proposed amendments

1. New definition for navigable waters

The proposed Canadian Navigable Waters Act (CNWA) adds clarity to decision making with a definition for navigable waters. Though the definition (pictured below) extend protections beyond the schedule to provide federal oversight for large developments on publicly accessible waterways, it is narrower than the canoe test. 

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The bridges Canada must build, right here at home

By John Ralston Saul

This piece was originally published August 25, 2017 in the Globe and Mail. Walls, Bridges, Homes is a series of essays written in response to the emerging global appetite for a progressive narrative around inclusion and immigration. The series frames the thematic focus on 6 Degrees Citizen Space (Sept. 25-27), a forum presented by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.

We have included this piece in our blog series for the way in which it weaves together the cultural and historic significance of rivers and the concept of rivers as bridges for building better relationships among all peoples. 

We seem to be desperate today to build bridges or to blow them up. The wall or no-wall argument, the barbed-wire fences now cutting up Europe are just new versions of the old idea that wherever water flows, people can be separated.

Wars are still fought from riverbank to riverbank, as they have been for thousands of years. People still glower at or cower from each other across these theoretically uncrossable divides. Borders still follow rivers or mountains or ocean coasts, unless they were drawn in straight lines on a map by rival imperial officials – lines designed to show not their belief in diversity, but their indifference to complexity in colonial lands.

We have this odd idea that borders are natural divisions – an idea fixed in our imaginations because so much of modern Europe was built on that myth. War after war after war leading from the Westphalian treaties in 1648 to the modern Westphalian nation-states. One way or another, these wars were aimed at creating what I call the monolithic model. Wars, rivers and mountains or arbitrarily drawn lines shaping nations which claim to house a single people. And the only way you can get to that notion of a single people is by pretending that they are made up of a single race, a monolithic religious belief system and total agreement on a shared mythology.


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