Proposed Oceans Act Amendments

As part of its plan to meet Canada’s marine conservation targets, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard has tabled Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act. The changes proposed in this Bill are aimed at facilitating the marine protected areas (MPAs) designation process without sacrificing sound science or the public’s opportunity to provide input.

Track the progress of Bill C-55 here: https://www.parl.ca/LegisInfo/Agenda.aspx?Language=E

The Oceans Act and associated Regulations governing Marine Protected Areas are available on the Department of Justice website, as is the Canada Petroleum Resources Act.

Two-Step Approach to Marine Protected Areas

The proposed changes would maintain the designation of MPAs through Governor-in-Council (GiC) regulations, which are the cornerstone of our marine protection approach. However, a challenge with this approach is that there is no increased protection in the area until the GiC regulations are in place. To improve this aspect of the MPA establishment process, the proposed changes to the Oceans Act would allow for the option to first designate an Interim Protection MPA (IP MPA) using a new Oceans Act instrument called a Ministerial Order.

The creation of an IP MPA before a GiC regulation would not be a requirement, but instead allow for interim protection of the area via a new two-stage approach:

While an Interim Protection MPA may be used as a first step to developing an Oceans Act MPA, it would not be required; however, a GiC regulation is required to ensure long-term protection of the area.

‘Freezing the Footprint’

Freezing the footprint means not increasing the impact of human activities beyond ongoing activities in a marine area identified in the regulations for the Interim Protection MPA (i.e. ongoing activities continue, prohibit new activities, some activities regulated under federal fisheries legislation or the Canada Petroleum Resources Act may be restricted further).

Ongoing Activities

An ‘ongoing activity’ is an activity which:

  1. Does not require an authorization, including a permit or licence, and has been carried out within one year before the Interim Protection MPA is established (e.g. kayaking, swimming, etc.);

    OR

  2. Requires an authorization, including a permit or licence, and has been carried out in the area within one year before the Interim Protection MPA is established (e.g. fishing, shipping, tourism activities, etc.);

    OR

  3. In those cases where the activity has not yet been carried out, but the activity is already authorized, including by permit or licence, to be carried out in the time period after the Interim Protection MPA is established, the activity is considered ongoing as long as the authorization was issued before the Interim Protection MPA is established.

Updating Enforcement Provisions

Several changes are proposed to update and strengthen the enforcement and offence provisions, including enforcement officer’s powers, in order to improve the Oceans Act’s consistency with the Environmental Enforcement Act and the Fisheries Act. Proposed changes are also made to other provisions, such as: compliance orders; offences and punishment (e.g., fines); proceedings against ships; and, increasing the limitation period to five years.

Precautionary Principle

The proposed amendments would also improve the Minister and Governor in Council’s ability to implement the precautionary principle when designating new Oceans Act MPAs, which means that a lack of scientific certainly regarding the risks posed by activities should not be used as a reason to postpone the designation, or to not designate, an MPA.

Before and after the proposed amendments to the Oceans Act
Before After

No protection is provided to an area identified for conservation until an MPA regulation is enacted.

There is no limit on the length of time to establish an Oceans Act MPA through GiC regulation.

Interim protection, through the use of a Ministerial Order may be provided to an area identified for conservation while a permanent MPA regulation is developed.

In cases where an Interim Protection MPA is established, a five-year time limit would be placed on the establishment of an Oceans Act MPA through GiC regulation. The clock starts on the day the Interim Protection MPA enters into force via Ministerial Order.

There is no requirement to apply the precautionary principle when deciding to establish and Oceans Act MPA. The Minister would be required to apply the precautionary principle when deciding to establish an Oceans Act MPA.
Enforcement powers and fines are not aligned with updated, current provisions in other legislation, such as the Environmental Enforcement Act. Enforcement powers and fines are strengthened to align with updated, current provisions in other legislation, such as the Environmental Enforcement Act.

Canada Petroleum Resources Act

The Minister of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) have statutory responsibilities for petroleum activities in Canada’s federal offshore lands that include the Pacific, Arctic, Hudson Bay and areas in the Atlantic that are not governed by federal-provincial Accord Acts. The Canada Petroleum Resources Act (CPRA) provides the Ministers with authority to regulate offshore oil and gas activities in these areas.

To complement the proposed amendments to the Oceans Act, the Government of Canada is also proposing amendments to the CPRA. The proposed amendments would allow the Minister of NRCan or INAC to:

  1. Prohibit oil and gas activities in marine areas where an Interim Protection MPA is established while the regulation for an Oceans Act MPA is being developed;
  2. Cancel a company’s oil and gas interest in areas where Oceans Act MPAs are designated by federal government regulation; and
  3. Compensate for the cancellation of a company’s oil and gas interest impacted by the designation of an Oceans Act MPA should no other option be agreed upon.

For questions please use this email address:  DFO.OceansAct-LoisurlesOceans.MPO@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

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