Canada’s shipping laws weaker than neighbouring jurisdictions, leading to massive pollution dumping

February 3, 2021

Canada has some of the weakest protections against cruise ship pollution along North American West Coast, says new report.

Unceded Coast Salish Territories (VANCOUVER, BC)  From California to Alaska, coastal jurisdictions are leading the way protecting Pacific waterways from cruise ship pollution—except Canada, where cruise ships annually dump more than 31 billion litres of ocean pollution.   

This is according to a new report released by and West Coast Environmental Law, revealing that Canada’s federal government, which oversees ocean transport, has some of the weakest protections against cruise ship pollution along the West Coast. 

Canada’s regulations have been amended several times since they were adopted in 2012, but are still not as stringent as their American counterparts. The groups say that reinvigorating the cruise ship industry post-COVID must include strengthened regulations that do a better job of limiting harmful dumping on the BC coast. 

Neighboring jurisdictions in Washington State and Alaska recognized the threat of a rapidly expanding cruise ship industry more than a decade earlier, and passed a suite of laws and regulations that held cruise ship operators accountable for the vast amounts of pollution these floating cities create on their voyages up and down the West Coast. For example, Alaska’s restrictions on fecal coliform counts in sewage discharge are up to 18 times more stringent than what is allowed in Canadian waters.

“The shocking findings of this report are that Canada has the weakest regulations along the West Coast, and as a result, ships are using our coast as a toilet bowl,” said Anna Barford, Canada Shipping Campaigner with “Cruise ships are literally holding onto pollution as they traverse California, Washington or Alaska and then dumping it off into our coast, even in the Great Bear Rainforest.”

During what was supposed to be the summer 2020 cruise ship season, the West Coast of Canada was spared from exposure to billions of litres of pollution due to ramped up COVID-19 regulations. The cruise ship industry along the coast has exploded over the last decade—in 2019, more than one million passengers and crew from 30 different cruise ships visited the Victoria cruise terminal during 256 ship calls on their way to and from Alaska. In that one year alone, at-risk populations of killer whales and sea otters—and the food sources and habitats on which they depend—were exposed to billions of litres of this harmful pollution. BC wild salmon, which are valued at $150-250 million per year and are vital to the province’s economy and coastal communities, also face substantial risks.

“Nuu-chah-nulth Nations are calling on the federal government to change the laws that regulate the cruise ship industry dumping their harmful waste into our ocean waters,” said Dr. Judith Sayers, member of the Hupacasath First Nation and president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. “Our oceans are our bread basket where we get all the sea resources we rely on for food, and the waters must be protected from harmful substances. Timing is perfect right now while cruise ships are docked during the pandemicwe can make changes now and be ready for when the cruise season begins again.”

As we look toward the end of this pandemic, cruise ship companies like Carnival Corporation are preparing to return to business-as-usual. And if the next cruise season is anything like 2019, there is a strong possibility that dozens of cruise ships will run through BC waters on their way to and from Alaska, leaving in their wake more billions of litres of inadequately treated cruise ship pollution laden with fecal coliform, ammonia, heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons—pollutants that are harmful to human health, aquatic organisms and coastal ecosystems. 

“The pandemic has given us a unique opportunity to pause and reflect on the significant risks that the cruise ship industry poses to marine ecosystems on the Pacific coast. If Canada is truly committed to protecting the health of its coastlines, it must update its current regulations immediately before the cruise industry attempts to pick up where it left off in 2019,” said Michael Bissonnette, Staff Lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law.

Groups are calling for Canada to immediately update and strengthen regulations that protect our coastlines before cruise ships are allowed back.


Media contact: 

Ziona Eyob, Canadian Communications Manager,
+1 (604) 757-7279 /

Alexis Stoymenoff, Director of Communications, West Coast Environmental Law
+1 604 684 7378 ext. 228 /