Protecting Canada’s navigable waters

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.

Transcript

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

Handbook

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:

  • enable partnership agreements with Indigenous groups to help monitor navigable waters, enforce the rules, and make decisions
  • direct decision-makers to consider and protect any traditional knowledge that Indigenous groups provide
  • direct decision-makers to consider any adverse effects a decision may have on Indigenous rights
  • establish a new definition for a “navigable water” that includes whether a water is used to exercise Indigenous rights

To support new partnership opportunities, Transport Canada would also:

  • provide funding to support agreements with Indigenous peoples who want to play a role in the navigation protection system
  • provide training and support to Indigenous peoples that partner with Canada to enforce the Act in their traditional territories and jurisdictions
  • create a special process for Indigenous peoples to propose navigable waters to the Schedule (the list of navigable waters that receive extra oversight)
  • set up Indigenous advisory groups to support early and regular feedback about national navigation issues

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:

  • the need for approval of major works such as large dams or other projects that greatly interfere with navigation on any navigable water
  • a new online registry where project developers must notify the public and give people the opportunity to raise concerns before construction begins
  • a new approach to, and a better process with clear criteria for adding ‎navigable waters to the Schedule, (the list of navigable waters that receive extra oversight)
  • a process that would allow the Minister of Transport to:
    • review navigation concerns related to works on navigable waters not listed in the Schedule (the list of navigable waters that receive extra oversight)
    • review works where these concerns remain unresolved
  • authority for the Minister of Transport to remove obstructions (for example, a partly sunk vessel) on any navigable water
  • the conduct of studies and information collection necessary to administer the Act (for example, studies on cumulative effects related to navigation)
  • stronger powers to enforce the new Act and its rules

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:

  • published a discussion paper about its proposed reforms to federal environmental and regulatory processes, including the navigation protection system.
  • invited the public to share their views on the reforms until September 15, 2017.

Transport Canada also published:

  • papers with more information on proposed changes to the navigation protection system:

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


Pre-approved

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.

Transparency

Discretionary

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

Enforcement

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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