CARC’s letter to various members of Government regarding international trade including NAFTA.

The Canadian Arctic Resources Committee is Canada’s oldest citizen’s organization dedicated to environmental sustainability in Canada’s Arctic. We have a long history of commenting on environmental issues and we are a vocal supporter of caribou conservation for their own sake and for those who rely on them for food.

Over the last number of years, we have become increasing alarmed at the state of caribou populations in Canada. As you may be aware, the Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada has now assessed all of Canada’s designated Arctic caribou populations and has recommended that they all be considered threatened or endangered. There have been significant and worrying declines in the populations of almost every caribou herd over the last twenty years.

Evidence from both local Indigenous people and scientific studies suggests that most herds have undergone natural fluctuations in numbers in the past but available demographic data indicates no sign of a rapid recovery and the cumulative threats are without historical precedent. Climate change has resulting in a combination of events. These include a decrease in the ability of the animals to access regular food sources, increases in both recreational and commercial shipping throughout Arctic waters and the resultant decrease in sea ice, and an increase in natural resource exploration, development and road building throughout the north. These factors together are creating a situation where it may be difficult for the populations of these animals to rebound.

It seems that the Government of Canada, in cooperation with northern Territorial and Indigenous governments, may have found itself in a position to ensure the continued existence of the last free, wide roaming ungulates of North America. These animals are so wide ranging that they are described as a keystone species; a group of animals that play a key ecological and cultural role in northern ecosystems. Moreover, they are of significant cultural and social value to northern Indigenous peoples and an important traditional food source. This is particularly true now in this time where food security is a serious issue for northern Indigenous people. The key is to keep development away from their critical habitat and, to date, many new resource developments can be found in caribou calving, post-calving and key migration areas.

We have reviewed the recent versions of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement and Trans-Pacific Partnership and are pleased to see that the environmental provisions found in these newer trade agreements are indeed much better than those found within the current version of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). We are also aware that the Canadian Government is working hard to include these types of environmental provisions with a new version of NAFTA. We believe that these provisions could be used to help ensure the protection of critical habitat for caribou and other threatened and endangered wildlife.

Despite this, there are criticisms by organizations like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives who have been keeping a careful eye on the development of all trade agreements. They are most concerned with continued provisions that allow foreign investors to challenge local government measures that allegedly diminish the value of their investments. NAFTA’s investor-state provision, and similar investment rules in other international trade agreements, have been criticized for giving multinational corporations too much power while constraining the fundamental role of democratic governments. There are concerns that the investor-state provision has been costing the Canadian government a lot of money and that NAFTA does not provide domestic corporations, citizens, unions and our own governments access to rights in cases where foreign developers are responsible for human rights violations or environmental degradation.

Specifically, with regards to caribou, we refer you to a 2010 case where a Montana-based businessman operating a hunting lodge on Indigenous land in the Northwest Territories alleged that conservation measures taken by the Government of the Northwest Territories to decrease the number of caribou hunted annually expropriated his investment. He further alleged that the allocation of the quota for caribou and other regulatory measures favoured local and Indigenous hunters and outfitters over non-residents. Fortunately, the claim appears to be inactive.
Given the concerns outlined above, we respectfully submit the following list of recommendations with regards to the renegotiation of NAFTA and ratification of any other international free trade agreements:

-The agreements should not be drafted to allow foreign investors to sue our governments when they perceive our environmental laws to be an impediment to their doing business. Foreign investors must comply with the laws of Canada as we the citizens of Canada do. The agreements allow all participating countries to create their own environmental laws and foreign investors should adhere to them.

-The agreements should allow our citizens to pursue actions against foreign investors who break our environmental laws.

-Trade agreements should not allow investors to sue over a country’s ability to restrict access to its designated protected areas or critical habitat for endangered and threated species. Moreover, all proposed developments near critical habitat for caribou and other endangered and threatened wildlife, including road building, new mines, oil and gas operations, hydroelectric sites and forestry operations, should be subject to full federal environmental reviews.

-Increases in shipping in the Arctic must be carried out in a manner that protects endangered and threatened marine species and should not affect the migratory movement of caribou back and forth across sea ice.

-The agreements should specifically state that foreign investors not have equal hunting access to wildlife populations that are required for subsistence by Indigenous peoples. Moreover, foreign developers must abide by any existing or new hunting restrictions deemed necessary to protect endangered and threatened wildlife.

-All trade agreements should include provisions that refer to and honour constitutionally protected Indigenous rights, legislated land and resource agreements.

We at the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee recognize how difficult it is to create trade agreements with other countries that improve our economy while adequately protecting our wildlife and the rights of our Indigenous people. It is a daunting challenge. That being said, we believe that the Government of Canada is in a position to create international trade agreements that consider our economy while protecting the critical habitat of North America’s last wide and free ranging ungulate population, our caribou, for themselves and because of the tradition food source that they represent for Indigenous people. To do so, the agreement’s must not only be about creating economy but be drafted in a manner that fully considers not only the needs of human beings but of these majestic animals; animals that we are so proud of having in Canada they have adorned our quarters for generations.

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