Protecting Canada’s navigable waters

Archived content

On August 28, 2019, the Impact Assessment Act, the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, and the Navigation Protection Act came into force. The Navigation Protection Act amends and renames the Canadian Navigable Waters Act. This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. For more information, please visit the Transport Canada website.

Protecting Canada’s navigable waters

All Canadians enjoy the right to navigate their boats (whether they are motorized, canoes or kayaks) through the vast network of oceans, rivers, lakes and canals across the country.

The Government is amending the navigation protection legislation that was put in place to oversee projects such as bridges and dams that could affect navigation. A review conducted over the past year has shown that there are improvements needed in the protection of navigation in Canada.

Why we did this

The Canadian Navigable Waters Act delivers on the Government of Canada’s promise to better protect the right to navigate on all Canada’s navigable waters.

Protecting the public right of navigation is an important element of the new environmental and regulatory system in which important projects are allowed to proceed in a sustainable manner, with a framework that provides for predictable and timely decisions.


What needs to change

During its review of the current Navigation Protection Act—Indigenous peoples, boaters, industry, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and other levels of government—shared their views on what needs to change in the current Act. Canadians have said that:

  • oversight of the public right to navigate is needed on all navigable waters in Canada
  • federal processes and decisions about navigation need to be open, accessible and transparent
  • Indigenous peoples need to play a greater role in administering navigation protections
  • navigation protection needs to remain efficient and effective

Benefits to Canadians

Canadian Navigable Waters Act

If passed, the Canadian Navigable Waters Act, the Government of Canada will:

  • restore lost protections for the public right to navigate on all navigable waters in Canada
  • make federal processes and decisions open, accessible and transparent

Benefits to project developers or businesses

The Canadian Navigable Waters Act will allow projects that meet established criteria to go ahead while protecting the public right of navigation by having:

  • a clear, transparent and public process, so that project developers can plan with greater certainty
  • an efficient regulatory system that supports economic growth
  • a new online registry where project developers must submit applications and make project information public


Benefits to Indigenous peoples

The Government of Canada’s desire for a strong relationship with Indigenous peoples is at the heart of its proposed approach.

The Canadian Navigable Waters Act will advance reconciliation and create new opportunities for Indigenous peoples to partner with Canada. For example, it will:

To support new partnership opportunities, Transport Canada would also:

Benefits to the broader public

Mariners, boaters and other recreational users will be able to continue to navigate all of Canada’s navigable waters.

The Canadian Navigable Waters Act will introduce:

About the review

In 2012, Parliament approved changes to Navigable Waters Protection Act and changed its name to the Navigation Protection Act. The changes came into force in 2014. The Government of Canada promised to review these changes, as well as restore protections and introduce modern safeguards.

Parliament's independent Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities examined changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. The Standing Committee tabled its final report on March 23, 2017, which included 11 recommendations.

On June 20, 2017, the Government of Canada tabled its response to the Standing Committee by accepting and, in some cases, going beyond its recommendations.

On June 29, 2017, the Government:

Transport Canada also published:

Related information

What will be different?

  Navigation Protection Act Proposed Canadian Navigable Waters Act
Scheduled waters Non-scheduled waters Scheduled water Non-scheduled water

New Works

* Some project proponents voluntarily sought approvals for greater certainty

A better process with clear criteria for adding ‎navigable waters to the list of waters needing extra oversight (Scheduled waters)
Project proponents must notify and consult on proposed works on all navigable waters

Project proponents must notify and consult on proposed works on all navigable waters
A new resolution process would allow the Minister of Transport to review navigation concerns, review works where concerns remain unresolved, on non-Scheduled waters and require approval.

Minor works


Deems minor works, as pre-approved on all navigable waters when built to established criteria

Major works
(e.g., dams)


*Some project proponents voluntarily sought approvals for greater certainty

Requires approval of major works that greatly interfere with navigation on all navigable waters in Canada.



Requires project proponents to notify the public and give people the opportunity to raise navigation concerns before construction begins on any navigable water

Navigational obstructions

Minister of Transport would have authority to remove obstructions (e.g. a partially sunk vessel) on all navigable waters in Canada

Indigenous engagement

Legal duty to consult

Legal duty to consult
Requires decision-makers:

  • when considering approvals, to consider and protect traditional Indigenous knowledge provided
  • to consider any adverse effects that decisions may have on Indigenous rights

Introduces a new, more comprehensive definition of a “navigable water” that includes travel on the water to exercise Indigenous rights; and
Enables partnership agreements with Indigenous groups for activities such as monitoring, enforcement and decision-making.

Navigability test

Common law test
(water must be part of aqueous highway)

Contains a new, more comprehensive definition of a “navigable water”

Prohibited activity
(depositing, throwing of material, dewatering)

More clearly explains the prohibitions related to dewatering


Delegates powers to enforce the new protections of the public right of navigation
Increases amounts for violations and offences and extends the set limitation periods for violations and offences; and
Expands the Minister’s powers to order offenders to correct or remove a work, or stop a prohibited activity on all navigable waters.

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