Canada trying to prevent NAFTA oilsands tailings ponds investigation

Watch above: An environmental groups says millions of litres of toxic water are leaking from a tailings pond into the Athabasca River. But instead of looking into the allegation, Canada is trying to prevent NAFTA from investigating. Reid Fiest reports.

Canada is trying to stop an international review of the environmental impact of oilsands tailings ponds.

“It’s pretty disappointing,” said Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence.

The environmental group filed a request in 2010 to have a review of the ponds, which cover about 77 square kilometres in northern Alberta, completed.

It alleged 4 billion litres of tailings ponds water was leaking in the Athabasca River.

READ MORE: Most of Canada’s oilsands must stay in ground if world to limit global warming: report

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Environmental Defence appealed to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), the environmental watchdog of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) to review the impact, saying Canada was breaking its own laws.

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CEC only acts when the majority of its member countries say it can.

Canada, the United States and Mexico all have a say. While a decision has not been made, the Canadian government said the request should be cancelled because of other legal action surrounds the ponds.

“The Commission for Environmental Cooperation’s rules state very clearly it is not to consider a matter that is subject to a domestic court proceeding,” Danny Kingsberry, a spokesperson for Environment Canada, said in a statement.

READ MORE: Albertans tell province to protect fresh water

Marshall said the government should reconsider its move.

“If there wasn’t a problem, then you would think that both the industry and the government would want this investigation to go forward to show, in fact, that there isn’t a problem,” said Marshall.

Over the years, the ponds’ environmental impact have been in question.

Proponents say the size of the ponds is being reduced and no toxins have leaked into nearby communities, nor has the health of its residents been affected.

READ MORE: Alberta First Nation waits on province’s next move after losing oilsands review

Chief Allan Adam, of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. denies that. He wants the government to agree to an independent investigation.

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“We’re not saying that we’re totally against everything,” said Adam. “We want to make sure that we do what’s right for the environment, and we want to do what’s right for the economy as well.”

The government said a final decision by the council is expected soon.

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