Update on Endangered Species Protection in Canada

Article excerpt


The Canadian government introduced the Species at Risk Act in April 2000. In its current form, the legislation is weak and will do little to halt the slide towards extinction of many Canadian species. Unlike the U.S. Endangered Species Act, which contains clear prohibitions against the harming of species and their habitats wherever they reside, many of the provisions in the Canadian Act rely on the discretion of politicians to act in a manner which is beneficial to species at risk. The legislation contains no automatic protection for the habitat of species at risk (loss of habitat is the primary cause of species endangerment) and the scope of the prohibitions against harming of individual species at risk and their residences is limited to federal lands (excluding the three northern territories which are under federal authority), some migratory birds, and some aquatic species. Species that migrate across the Canada-U.S. border are not specifically addressed by the legislation. Final decisions about which species will be listed, and therefore receive legal protection, will be left up to politicians, not scientists. The current Act does not fulfill all of Canada's commitments under international and national agreements, nor does it live up to the government's own promises or meet the expectations of the majority of Canadians who believe that the federal government should take the lead role in protecting species at risk.


Canada is home to some 57,000 identified species (Canadian Wildlife Service 1995). Of these, 353 are on the national list of species at risk. Twenty-seven species are already gone from the Canadian wild, and another 326 will meet the same fate unless factors affecting their well-being are reversed. Some species like the Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis), the Newfoundland population of the American marten (Martes americana atrata), and the copper redhorse (Moxostoma hubbsi) are found only in Canada. Others, like the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) and woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), refuse to recognize international boundaries and range freely between Canada and the U.S. While American laws protect them in the U.S., the absence of similar legislation in Canada and many of its provinces means that these species can be legally hunted in some jurisdictions.

Because of its decentralized power structures, passing endangered species legislation in Canada is considerably more cumbersome than in the U.S. Under the Constitution Act of 1867, much of the control over natural resources was devolved to the provinces. The federal government retained control over its lands, which include national parks, military sites, and some agricultural lands, inland fisheries and the seacoast, and "Indian lands" (this includes the three northern territories). Because the Constitution Act granted Parliament the power to implement Imperial treaties such as the Migratory Birds Convention Act (MBCA) signed by England (on behalf of Canada) and the United States, the Canadian government also has authority over birds covered by this convention. Matters of exclusive provincial authority include provincial public lands and their forest resources, civil and property rights, and other matters of a purely local concern. The Constitution Act was amended in 1982 when the Constitution was repatriated from England to grant the provinces exclusive authority over non-renewable natural resources, forestry resources and electrical production facilities.

Authority over natural resources is jealously guarded by the provinces and any "interference" by the federal government in what is perceived to be provincial jurisdiction would further destabilize sensitive federal-provincial relations. Because not all provinces and territories have passed stand-alone endangered species legislation, many of Canada's species at risk may fall through the cracks due to jurisdictional wrangling. …