Ottawa misses opportunity to protect oceans from ship pollution at IMPAC5: reacts

February 8, 2023
Canada’s federal government could have shown leadership on the world stage by protecting marine life and coastal communities in a meaningful way

Unceded Coast Salish Territories (VANCOUVER, BC) — Canada’s federal government announced in Vancouver today that it would enforce minimum standards for marine protected areas to prohibit oil and gas exploration and exploitation, mining, and bottom trawling, but failed to include regulations on vessel discharges – providing little relief for coastal communities preparing for cruise season this spring.

This announcement, made by the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard alongside the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, took place at IMPAC5, a global forum happening in Vancouver until February 9 bringing together ocean conservation professionals, including policymakers and decision makers in Canada’s federal government.

“Just weeks after Canada hosted a UN conference on biodiversity, today’s announcement comes as a disappointment when Ottawa had an opportunity to lean into the ongoing momentum and enact stronger ocean protections for marine life and coastal communities from ship pollution,” said Anna Barford, Canada Shipping Campaigner with “While our neighbours in Washington State, California and Alaska have already brought in mandatory measures to address pollution from ships, it appears that Transport Canada is once again dropping the ball by failing to include vessel discharges in their latest measures.”

Earlier this week, 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 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, the B.C coast was subjected to 32 billion litres of dumping of sewage, greywater, and acidic fossil fuel waste from scrubbers. These waste streams contain a variety of pollutants, including fecal coliform, heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are extremely harmful to aquatic organisms and coastal ecosystems. Contaminants not only impact the health of the marine ecosystem, toxins can bioaccumulate to the food on our plates.

Last April, Transport Canada announced that it would improve measures on greywater and sewage pollution, a welcomed first step worth celebrating – as long as they actually become enforceable regulations before the start of the cruise season this spring. Over the summer, an Access to Information and Privacy Request obtained by National Observer revealed that Transport Canada planned to crack down on scrubbers in 2022, but instead let the cruise ship industry talk them out of it. Municipalities have since joined the chorus of voices calling for a ban on scrubbers, with a unanimous motion at the September 2022 Union of BC Municipalities convention.  Meanwhile, the cruise industry continues to present itself as an important economic driver behind Victoria’s tourism industry despite analysis revealing that economic benefits of non-cruise tourism dwarf those from cruise tourism.

“All we want is for the federal government to stop letting ships treat B.C.’s coastline like their personal toilet bowl, which is something that they continue to agree with but not enact,” said Barford. “It’s now up to other mechanisms to bring in stronger oversight of ship dumping into the ocean and to stop capitulating to an industry with a known track record of polluting.” is calling on Canada’s federal government to support coastal communities by instituting an ambitious ship pollution oversight program.


Media contact: 

Ziona Eyob, Media Director – Canada,, +1 604 757 7279 (Pacific Time)