Environmentalists escalate Canada’s poor ocean protection record to multilateral body

October 30, 2023
Stand.earth submits official complaint to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation for Canada’s failure to protect ocean from shipping pollution

Unceded Coast Salish Territories (VANCOUVER, BC) — Environmental advocates are ramping up pressure on Canada’s federal government to enforce regulation on shipping pollution in the ocean and honour its own rules.

Environmental organisation Stand.earth submitted an official complaint to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) underscoring Canada’s failure to enforce its Fisheries Act, Section 36, which underscores the federal government’s mandate to prevent pollution of the marine environment, particularly pollution from cruise ships using “exhaust gas cleaning systems” along the Pacific coast of Canada.

Ocean dumping from vessels comes primarily from cruise ships, and the industry on Canada’s West 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. During this time, 32 billion litres of  sewage, greywater, and acidic fossil fuel combustion waste from scrubbers was dumped along the B.C. coast from these vessels. Transport Canada has announced voluntary measures to deal with 2 billion litres of sewage and greywater – however they are leaving oceans and coastal communities to face major threats from the remaining 30 billion (more than 90 per cent) of waste streams.

“Canada has had ample opportunities to address pollution from cruise ships, but has continued to not only fail to bring in effective regulations, it has failed to bring in enforcement of those regulations,” said Ben Isitt, the lawyer working with Stand.earth to submit this complaint to the CEC. “This is why we have no choice but to escalate this long standing issue and get multilateral bodies involved.” 

Last year, Transport Canada announced that it was bringing in voluntary measures on greywater and sewage pollution. An Access to Information and Privacy Request obtained by National Observer revealed that Transport Canada planned to crack down on the acid dumping machine called scrubbers in 2022, but instead let the cruise ship industry talk them out of it.

“Instead of laying the groundwork for meaningful ocean protection, Canada continues to allow industry to shirk its responsibilities while endangering and threatening Southern and Northern Resident Killer Whales,” said Anna Barford, Canada Shipping Campaigner. “Scrubber waste causes harm to their habitat, to their food, and ultimately to them. Canada needs to protect them immediately by stopping the 30 billion litres of vessel pollution coming from cruise ships.”

This complaint submission comes on the heels of an ongoing and increasing chorus of people echoing their concerns about the impacts of shipping on coastal communities and oceans. Last April, as the first cruise ship of the season docked in the Port of Vancouver, over 50,000 people signed and delivered a petition calling on then Transport Minister Omar Alghabra to end cruise ship dumping. In February, Stand projected a video message onto Vancouver’s Burrard Bridge that called on Canada’s federal government to enact stronger regulations that protect marine life and coastal communities from ocean pollution, and also shared the video outside the Vancouver Convention Centre on the opening day of IMPAC5.

Over the last decade, the cruise ship industry on Canada’s West Coast has exploded. In recent years, after cruise stops in Canada were halted for public health reasons, ports in Vancouver and Victoria are breaking pre-2020 records. In 2023, the Port of Vancouver saw 15 of it’s 20 busiest days ever for cruise passengers and 1.25 million passengers (up 54% compared to 2022). Victoria’s Ogden Point hosted nearly a million ship passengers in 2023. As more passengers arrive on bigger ships, pollution and stress on communities must be addressed.

Stand.earth is calling for better protections for the ocean including no discharge zones in protected areas, cleaner fuel mandates that prevent acidic dumping, and strict treatment requirements in line with our immediate neighbours and protection of endangered species like the Southern Resident Killer Whales.


Media contact: 

Ziona Eyob, Media Director – Canada, canadamedia@stand.earth, +1 604 757 7279 (Pacific Time)