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Environment and Climate Change Canada is not proactive in prompting action to protect species under urgent threat

Press Release

Ottawa, 20 April 2023—A report released today by Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Jerry V. DeMarco concludes that Environment and Climate Change Canada was not proactive in its approach to providing the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change with timely advice on using the discretionary, emergency powers at its disposal to protect wildlife species at risk and their habitats. These powers are to be used on non-federal lands when provinces and territories are failing to effectively protect a species listed as being at risk.

The audit found that the department had access to information about threats to wildlife species and their habitats, declining species population trends, and the lack of protection of critical habitat on non‑federal lands. Despite this, it did not have a proactive approach to advise the minister on invoking these powers to protect species. Since the Species at Risk Act came fully into force almost 20 years ago, 3 emergency orders have been issued to address imminent threats. In all instances, they were triggered by pressure from sources external to the federal government. The audit found that the department had not completed its policies and guidelines for using discretionary, emergency powers under the Species at Risk Act.

The audit also found that Environment and Climate Change Canada had taken some important first steps by establishing conservation agreements with provincial and territorial governments, and Indigenous groups to protect and recover some species, such as caribou. However, the federal government needs to work with its partners to strengthen these agreements—for example, by including measurable targets.

“The federal government has the power to step in when there are urgent threats to a species, but it lacks initiative as well as policies to guide its actions,” said Mr. DeMarco. “As such, Environment and Climate Change Canada’s actions do not reflect the urgency of the worldwide biodiversity crisis.”

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The 2023 Reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Report 3—Discretionary Powers to Protect Species at Risk, is available on the Office of the Auditor General of Canada website.

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