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Oceans Act

Albatross - Tavish Campbell

The Oceans Act is Canada’s flagship marine protection law, and celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2017. The Act was lauded as the world’s first holistic and ecosystem-based law when it came into force in 1997. In addition to legislating the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea zones into Canadian law, Canada’s Oceans Act created three programs on integrated management; marine protected areas (MPAs); and marine environmental quality. It mandated the Minister to develop a national oceans strategy and a national system of MPAs.

However, despite these promising features, the Act has not been fully implemented and its skeletal nature has provided little guidance on process and substance for both MPA network and integrated marine planning. Marine environmental quality standards are also needed, yet have not been developed to date.

The Act is now under scrutiny. First, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans is reviewing the Oceans Act and how it addresses MPAs. West Coast is participating in the review by appearing as a witness, and submitting detailed briefs.

Second, another Parliamentary Committee, the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development’s recent report, entitled Taking Action Today: Establishing Protected Areas for Canada’s Future, makes a number of recommendations to improve protected areas in Canada. We participated in this review as a witness and through the submission of briefs.

Third, amendments to the Oceans Act were introduced in June 2017 in Bill C-55. The main features of the Bill include a proposal to create a new option and process under the Act to designate an Interim Marine Protected Area by a Ministerial Order, and to create a new legal authority that can be used to prohibit new oil and gas activities in MPAs and cancel existing oil and gas interests in MPAs in some circumstances.

We believe the Bill can and should go farther to protect whales and all marine life. With the world’s longest coastline and three vastly different oceans, Canadians deserve an effective, forceful and modern Oceans Act.

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