Canadian Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield has created controversy and drawn harsh criticism from environmental advocates over statements in a letter recently released where he promotes options allowing the industry to contaminate fish habitats.
On March 31, Ted Hindmarch, President of “Nature Alberta”, formerly the Federation of Alberta Naturalists, wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in connection with the announced amendments to the Fisheries Act. The letter was referred to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Keith Ashfield who replied on June 13.
In his reply, Mr. Ashfield discusses the proposed amendments to the Fisheries Act included in Bill C-38, the “Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act”, which was tabled in the House of Commons on April 26, 2012. The amendments, says Mr. Ashfield, aim to support Fisheries and Oceans Canada's focus on protection efforts for fish that support fisheries relevant to Canadians and the threats to those fisheries.
Further down in his reply the Honourable Keith Ashfield refers to the pollution prevention provisions
House of Commons
The Honorable Keith Ashfield, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
contained in Section 36 of the Fisheries Act and acknowledges that those provisions have played a decisive role in preventing pollution of Canadian waters and that they remain very valuable. However, in the same paragraph he adds the following:
“There are currently few tools to authorize pollution other than by detailed regulations. For example, the amended Fisheries Act will provide flexibility and establish new tools to authorize deposits of deleterious substances.”
“Nature Alberta”, the former DFO Minister Thomas Siddon, and organizations concerned about the quality of the environment, have expressed uneasiness about such statement from the minister. The interpretation is that Ashfield suggests the existing Fisheries Act should be changed since it doesn't provide enough options allowing industry to disrupt or contaminate fish habitats and that more flexibility and new tools are needed to approve pollution of water courses. Allowing or facilitating fish habitat pollution goes against the Minister’s constitutional mandate and responsibility.
The proposed amendments to the Fisheries Act include removing existing controls prohibiting pollution or harm to fish habitat and replacing those with new requisites to prevent "serious harm" to specific fisheries. Other changes would eliminate the need for environmental assessment of new projects, weaken protection measures for species at risk and limit public involvement in environmental reviews of industrial projects, reports Canada.com.
According to The Vancouver Sun, Ashfield has declined a request to explain his remarks. He relayed the queries to staff in his Department which in turn is passing on the questions to Environment Canada. The Sun reports that no one in Environment Canada was available to provide a comment.