Activities on Canada’s West (Wet) Coast, whether they be in the forest, on the grasslands, in the mountains, on the coast, or in the rapidly expanding urban areas, inevitably involve work in, on or around bodies of water. Whether it is construction of new housing and commercial buildings, harvesting of trees near streams or lakes, building of docks, extraction of water for industrial commercial or agricultural purposes, or the deposit of materials, such activities all have the potential to impact the water and the plants and animals that inhabit it.
In addition to the more general environmental protection statutes which may apply, a range of federal, provincial and local laws are implicated. In British Columbia these include: the Water Sustainability Act, the Riparian Areas Protection Act, the Wildlife Act, and industry specific statutes such as the Forest and Range Practices Act, the Mines Act, or the Oil and Gas Activities Act. Other provinces have similar regimes.
At the federal level the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act may also be relevant.
The regulation of wildlife in Canada is shared by the provincial and federal governments. The result is a complex and often irreconcilable morass of laws which must be understood and managed in order for activities to progress.
With primary responsibility for activities on the landbase, provinces use varying approaches to the protection and management of wildlife and its habitat. All of the provinces have general wildlife laws, and requirements to manage impacts on wildlife in natural resource regulations. Species at risk protections are often found within these laws and in addition, in some provinces, within specific endangered species laws.
The federal Species at Risk Act directs the development of recovery and management plans for species listed in several categories at risk across the country and provides protection for endangered and threatened migratory birds, aquatic species and other species located on federal lands. It also grants the federal government order powers over other species on provincial and private lands, authority which has been used sparingly but with significant impact on affected landowners.
The federal Fisheries Act prohibits works impacting fish and fish habitat and the deposit of deleterious substances into waters frequented by fish without approval or, in the case of some industries such as pulp and paper or mining, adherence to regulations. Recent changes to the Act have led to some of the highest fines ever imposed on Canadian industry related to the environment. Managing impacts to fish and fish habitat is critical to the success of virtually any activity in or near bodies of water across the country.
The federal Migratory Birds Convention Act imposes requirements intended to protect migratory birds and their nests, which impacts activities across the commercial and industrial spectrum. Adherence to these laws significantly narrows the timing of when activities on the land can take place, as active nesting season can stretch over many months. The prohibitions on depositing harmful substances in areas frequented by birds protects birds from hazardous substances that are stored or disposed of during construction and operational stages of activity.
All Canadian jurisdictions have general environmental protection statutes which impose rules regarding emissions to the air, land and water, and address specific issues such as regulation of toxic or hazardous substances, mandatory spill response and reporting, and remediation of contamination sites.
In British Columbia, the Environmental Management Act is the primary mechanism through which permits and approval for activities which generate waste (including effluent, air emissions, solids and hazardous materials) may proceed. The Act also establishes the requirements related to recycling, spills, contaminated sites, inspections, investigations, offences, penalties and environmental appeals, and provides the government with the authority to issue orders to control, remediate or prevent pollution.
The EMA delegates the authority over air emissions and sewage in Metro Vancouver to the Greater Vancouver Regional District, which issues permits and regulations though Bylaws.