What we heard: Review of the Marine Liability Act

The Marine Liability Act makes sure that if a ship-source oil spill happens in Canadian waters, the polluter pays for the clean-up and damage.

Liability for ship-source oil pollution in Canada is based on international conventions developed by the International Maritime Organization. These conventions make sure that compensation is available to individuals, businesses and all levels of governments, even if the spill wasn't caused by fault or negligence.

The types of losses or damage covered include:

  • pollution prevention measures
  • clean-up costs
  • property damage
  • fisheries losses
  • tourism losses
  • environmental clean-up

Since the 1970s, the number of ship-source oil spills and the volume of oil released during these spills has dropped by 95%. While Canada's coasts and waterways have never been safer, ship-source oil pollution can happen and the government is committed to making sure that Canada's liability and compensation system remains world-class.

To respond to recommendations from the Canada Energy Regulator and the Impact Assessment Agency (PDF, 6.36 MB), Transport Canada reviewed the scope of eligible losses under the Marine Liability Act.

From January 2020 to March 2021, we asked Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities along Canada's coasts, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, and other interested stakeholders for feedback on non-economic losses (losses that cannot easily be replaced with money or goods purchased at a store). These types of losses are not included in the Marine Liability Act.

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In January 2020, we mailed over 300 Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to ask whether the Marine Liability Act reflects the diverse needs of Canadians who may be impacted by ship-source oil spills. The engagement was set to last 6 months, with a scheduled end-date in June 2020.

In March 2020, we also launched an online engagement through the Let's Talk Transportation Portal to reach a wider audience. In June 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the engagement was extended to March 2021, to make sure that Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities had enough time to submit feedback.

In fall 2020, new material was sent out to communities, including a discussion guide to help them prepare for discussions, as well as write submissions.

During the engagement period, we participated in over 50 meetings across Canada. By the time the engagement closed on March 31, 2021, we received a total of 14 written submissions from Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. 

What we heard

This section summarizes the feedback we collected throughout the engagement. The feedback has been organized by themes.

The opinions and views in this section belong to the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities that provided feedback. They are not the views of Transport Canada and are not intended to be a list of the potential outcomes of this Review.

Fishing, Hunting, Harvesting

Indigenous communities emphasized that fishing, hunting, and harvesting generate income, feed families, and are important expressions of culture and tradition. They raised concerns about the potential impacts to the transmission of traditional knowledge and cultural learning if they can't fish, hunt, or harvest.

Impacts on local activities and cultural practices

Indigenous communities voiced concerns over how an oil spill could impact culturally sensitive sites, which are often linked to cultural practices. These impacts could affect Indigenous communities' quality of life, ability to participate in ceremonies, and the cultural significance of the site itself.

Many Indigenous communities emphasized the importance of a sense of place, and especially how it relates with the transmission of knowledge. Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities also noted impacts on educational, recreational and community events, including land-based education, canoe races and art festivals.

Long-term impacts

Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities raised long-term (more than three years) concerns or potential permanent environmental damage resulting from a ship-source oil spill and its impact on cultural and recreational opportunities. Participants stressed that long-term impacts have a greater risk of detrimental impacts on the transmission of traditional knowledge to future generations.

Impact on already stressed environments

Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities expressed concerns about the impact that a ship-source oil spill could have on a particular species in already stressed environments. For example, a spill in an area where there's already an endangered salmon population, which is a culturally significant species.

Participants expressed a concern that the restoration of the environment to pre-spill condition may not be possible, or that existing cumulative effects would complicate meaningful environmental restoration. These concerns relate to other concerns about compensation for long-term or permanent damage.

Awareness of the Liability and Compensation Regime

Throughout the Review, stakeholders wanted more information about the compensation available for ship-source spills and eligible losses. Stakeholders also noted that they want to be notified of any spills. Participants noted that this would help them respond to spills and help to make communities aware of available compensation.

What's next?

Canada's liability and compensation regime is a key part of the ship-source oil spill response system. It makes sure that if a marine incident happens in Canadian waters, the people affected can be compensated for eligible losses.

Compensation is currently available to address many of the concerns we heard about. This includes compensation for monetary losses, added costs for impacts on harvesting or other Indigenous cultural activities or events impacted by an oil spill.

We heard that access to harvesting and the availability of food after an oil spill is a top concern, particularly for Indigenous communities. In response, Budget 2022 outlined the government's intention to introduce legislative amendments to the Marine Liability Act to clarify the liability and compensation regime for ship-source oil spills.  At the same time, we're working with our colleagues across government to measure, understand, and address the long-term impacts of oil spills.

We want to thank everyone who shared their time and views to support this Review.

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