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Canada’s flagship ocean protection law renewed by Parliament

Monday, May 27, 2019

Federal bill renewing Canada’s Oceans Act receives Royal Assent

VANCOUVER, BC, Coast Salish Territories – Environmental lawyers are celebrating the news that Bill C-55, which renews Canada’s Oceans Act, has passed the final hurdle to become law, fulfilling one of the government’s key commitments to improve marine protection. The Bill also amends the Canada Petroleum Resources Act by introducing new tools to rescind oil and gases leases within marine protected areas (MPAs).

“These amendments will make marine protection in Canada faster, more straightforward, and more effective,” said Linda Nowlan, Staff Lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law. “It’s a win-win for all Canadians. The new law increases certainty for ocean users, and increases the number of government tools to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems.”

The Bill, tabled in 2017 by then-Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc, updates the Oceans Act to reflect over two decades of progress in ocean law and science.

Two key provisions are now part of the renewed Oceans Act: ecological integrity is defined for the first time in Canada’s marine conservation laws, and the Act requires the application of the precautionary approach, which provides that precautionary measures should be taken even when there is a lack of scientific certainty about the risks posed by an ocean activity. Both legal concepts are critical for stronger protection for marine ecosystems.

New powers to establish interim MPAs, which include timelines for converting them into permanent MPAs, will allow for faster ocean protection and greater certainty.

The Bill includes complementary amendments to the Canada Petroleum Resources Act which allow the government to negotiate the surrender or cancellation of oil and gas leases within MPAs.

“This government has acted swiftly to renew these laws for the benefit of all Canadians, and indeed for all ocean species and for the ocean itself,” said Nowlan. “By facilitating faster protection for marine habitats, these amendments reflect the words from the head of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecological Services – ‘if given the chance, nature will reconquer its rights and will prevail.’”  

This announcement is another positive move in Canada’s marine conservation efforts, coming on the heels of the government’s commitment two weeks ago to prohibit industrial activities, including oil and gas, from all MPAs.

“Regular updates to embed the latest legal and scientific knowledge in Canada’s ocean laws will help us meet our international legal commitments, and even more importantly, protect the ocean for generations to come,” Nowlan said.

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For more information, please contact:

Linda Nowlan | Staff Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law
604-684-7378 ext. 217 | lnowlan@wcel.org

Additional resources:

Bill C-55: Stronger Legal Protection for Marine Space in Canada

Oceans20: Canada’s Oceans Act Workshop Report