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Great Lakes Article:

Great Lakes proposal a mistake, report says
Deal allows water diversion, critic says Calls it a threat to ecology, sovereignty
By Peter Gorrie
The Toronto Star
Published October 16th, 2004

A proposed policy for the Great Lakes would allow unlimited diversion of water and undercut Canada's sovereignty, says a legal opinion commissioned by opponents of the pact.

The policy was agreed to in July by Ontario, Quebec and the eight U.S. states bordering the five lakes.

It was intended to set standards for approving uses and diversions of water from the lakes by far the world's largest surface supply of fresh water.

But rather than protecting the lakes, it would "facilitate the diversion of Great Lakes waters to an extent that would threaten the ecological integrity of the Great Lakes and seriously challenge Canada's sovereignty with respect to these waters," says the opinion, prepared by Ottawa environmental lawyer Steven Shrybman.

It would establish a scheme for authorizing diversions with no limits on how many would be allowed or for what purpose.

The legal opinion "confirms our worst fears" about the proposal, says Sara Ehrhardt of the Council of Canadians, which commissioned the opinion and has campaigned against the plan.

Monday is the last day of three months of what the council considers ineffective public consultation on the proposal, which, if adopted by Canada and the U.S., would become an annex to their Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909.

Among other things, the treaty prohibits diversions that would affect the natural flow or level of water on the other side of the border.

The annex would allow diversions to rapidly growing cities in Great Lakes border states that are outside the lakes' basin and are running short of water.

The water isn't supposed to be taken more than 18 kilometres from the basin, and most would have to be returned.

The Canadian government was critical of an earlier version of the annex, proposed in 2001. But it has said nothing about the new one, Ehrhardt says.

"Clearly, the federal government has shirked its responsibility to Canadians by remaining silent on the Great Lakes annex."

As part of the council's campaign, supporters have "a flood" of e-mails to the office of Prime Minister Paul Martin.

The group is also obtaining signatures on a petition to be presented later this year.

"Canadians have spoken," Ehrhardt says. "We now call on the federal government to act immediately to stop this agreement. The fate of the Great Lakes depends on it."

Ehrhardt says the annex contains so many exceptions and loopholes that "the door would be more or less open for everyone to take water." Small uses aren't regulated, and large numbers of them could have a big impact, she notes.

The annex would take diversion approvals outside the treaty, and also ignores advice offered by the International Joint Commission, the Canada-U.S. body created by the treaty to prevent and resolve disputes, Shrybman writes in his opinion. "Implementation ... would conflict or `clash' with the (treaty) thereby undermining the role of the IJC and weakening the protection the treaty affords."

It's supported by Ontario and Quebec but "ignores the constitutional authority of Canada's federal government with respect to Great Lakes waters," he says.

The federal government is committed to protecting the lakes, says Reynald Doiron, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew.

In 2002, it amended the treaty to prohibit bulk water removals from watersheds such as the Great Lakes.

"All provinces now have in place legislation, regulations or policies prohibiting bulk water removal."

Officials say Ottawa isn't being bypassed, and its obligations under the treaty remain, no matter what happens with the annex.

It has discussed the proposal with the provinces, states and U.S. government, and isn't bound by Monday's deadline for comments.

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