United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

November 21, 2003

The Honourable David Anderson,
Minister of Environment
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6

Dear Mr. Anderson,

The National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC) is pleased that the Government of Canada has finally ratified the United Nations convention on the Law of the Sea, as we have urged the Government to do in 1987 and again in 1993.

Under this very important UN‘Convention, Canada will “have an obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment and, …to protect and preserve rare and fragile ecosystems, as well as the habitat of depleted, threatened or endangered species and other forms of marine life..” .

Since 1993, the marine species and ecosystems of the coastal areas of Canada have come under increasing threats from marine activities, including among others, the use of Low Frequency Active Sonar Systems (LFASS) by the United States Navy in the coastal waters of British Columbia and the proposed use of seismic blasting for near shore and gas development off the coast of Cape Breton. (The issue of LFASS was drawn to your attention in the NCWC Annual Brief which you received recently).

Both activities have the potential to deleteriously affect marine life. In British Columbia Frequency Active Sonar Systems will interfere with essential life elements such as breeding, migration, feeding and caring for offspring, and in Cape Breton, oil and gas development will impact heavily on marine fish, the endangered Blue Whale, Right Whale and Leatherback Turtle , the Margaree River and two bird sanctuaries. In the case of the Lower St.Lawrence River, the endangered Beluga Whale population.

These activities are completely contrary to the intent of the UN convention that Canada has just ratified, and if continued (in the case of BC) or allowed in Cape Breton or the lower St.Lawrence Rive, belie this Government’s intent to honour the Law of the Sea.

With this in mind, the National Council of Women of Canada, in its 2003 Brief to the Government of Canada, urged the Government to ” ban the testing and/or use of Low Frequency Active Sonar Systems in any marine environment, or any waters where it would have a deleterious effect on whales and other marine animals.”

At this time, we also respectfully urge your Government, to extend the moratorium on oil and gas exploration that now applies to the fishing grounds off George’s Bank in south west Nova Scotia , to Cape Breton’s coastal areas and the lower St. Lawrence River basin. Who has not thrilled to the sight of the whales in our coastal waters. Through these two actions, the Government of Canada may truly show its strong commitment to the Law of the Sea Treaty that it has so wisely ratified this past month.

NCWC (founded in 1893) with the mission to improve conditions of life for women and their families in the communities where they live, is a member of the International Council of Women, holds Consultative Status with ECOSOC at the United Nations, and is a participating member of the Women’s Commission of the Organization for the Americas (OAS/CIM).

Who has not been thrilled to see the whales when visiting Canada’s shores! It would be a terrible loss if these marine mammal populations were to be extinguished. We look forward to your response.

Yours truly,

Catharine Laidlaw-Sly

c.c. Hon. Paul Martin
Hon. Ralph Goodale
Hon. Harbance Dhaliwal
Hon. Robert Thibeault
Hon. Claude Drouin
Hon. Gerry Byrne
Hon. Jean Augustine
Text prepared by Gracia Janes, NCWC Environment Convener

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