Sierra Legal Defence Fund filed a formal complaint with Canada’s Auditor General this past week seeking an investigation into the Government of Canada’s failure to abide by the environmental commitments it made when signing the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Mexico.
When NAFTA was being negotiated, concerns were raised that the agreement would lead the countries to neglect their environmental laws and result in a further environmental degradation across the continent. In response, the countries signed an environmental side agreement in 1994 that established the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). The CEC is one of the world’s first institutions created specifically to address the environmental impacts of economic integration and free trade and to enhance environmental protection and cooperation.
“Canada, Mexico and the U.S. made a promise to the citizens of North America that free trade would not come at the expense of the environment,” said Randy Christensen, lawyer with Sierra Legal. “The Commission for Environmental Cooperation is a critical part of that promise, yet the governments almost immediately began conspiring to undermine this important watchdog agency and are now poised to sidestep these commitments completely by negotiating new agreements like the ominously opaque Security and Prosperity Partnership agreement.”
The complaint was filed as Prime Minister Harper, President Fox and President Bush met in Mexico to discuss economic and security arrangements, including the controversial Security and Prosperity Partnership. “It is deeply troubling that Canadians are being forced to accept further economic and legal integration with the U.S. and Mexico given the string of broken promises from the last round,” continued Christensen.
The SPP negotiations are seeking agreement on issues of transboundary environmental impacts, water quality, air quality, endangered species and water stewardship – all the subject of the promises made in the NAFTA environmental side agreement. Unlike the CEC however, the SPP contains no commitments to the principles of openness, transparency, public involvement or protection of the environment. The SPP’s objective of “prosperity” means that environmental standards are likely to be lowered to promote trade, rather than harmonized upward to protect the environment.
The CEC agreement committed the parties to prepare “state of the environment” reports, publish non-compliance information and create an agreement on transboundary environmental impact, but these promises remain unfulfilled. Sierra Legal’s submission to the Auditor General asks the federal Minister of the Environment, Rona Ambrose, to respond in writing to several allegations concerning Canada’s failure to uphold the North American Agreement for Environmental Cooperation and fulfil its commitment to support the CEC.