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Canada must answer: why aren’t we protecting polar bears?

As the polar bears of the Beaufort Sea face record low ice, the Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has issued a determination, requiring a response from Canada to submission SEM-11-003 (Protection of Polar Bears). A year ago, on 5 December 2011, the US Center for Biological Diversity filed a claim that Canada is failing to effectively enforce its Species at Risk Act (SARA). Canada listed the polar bear as a species of special concern rather than a threatened or endangered species, “thus denying the bear any substantive legal protections under SARA.”

The Center alleges that the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) failed to consider the best available information about the status of the polar bear in Canada. The Center alleges that the proper listing (as threatened or endangered) would have afforded greater protection to polar bears and their critical habitat. Among other alleged failures to effectively enforce SARA, the Center asserts that Canada failed to meet deadlines in making its listing decision.

The Secretariat, established by the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (the NAAEC), requests a response only after determining that a submission meets minimum criteria in Article 14(1) and (2) of the NAAEC. NAAEC Articles 14 and 15 include procedures allowing private parties to make submissions to the CEC Secretariat asserting “that a Party [to the NAAEC] is failing to effectively enforce its environmental law.” The CEC has published Guidelines for Submissions on Enforcement Matters explaining these procedures.

Canada has 30 days to provide its response and in exceptional circumstances, up to 60 days. Thereafter, the Secretariat will review the submission in light of any response to determine whether it warrants development of a factual record.

For more information, please visit the CEC’s Submissions on Enforcement Matters webpage, and the registry of Submission SEM-11-003 (Protection of Polar Bears).

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