Great Lakes proposal a mistake, report
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
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
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
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
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
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
It has discussed the proposal with the provinces, states
and U.S. government, and isn't bound by Monday's deadline