Emergency Works

In Canada, the right to navigate our waterways is protected by law. The Canadian Navigable Waters Act (CNWA) focuses on protecting navigation in Canada’s waterways. Transport Canada (TC) is responsible for reviewing and regulating works (e.g., bridges, marinas, dams and booms) in these waterways.

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What is an emergency work under subsection 10.4(1) of the CNWA?

An emergency work, as stated in the CNWA, is a work – other than a minor work – in, on, over, under, through or across any navigable water that has had its construction, placement, alteration, rebuilding, removal or decommissioning authorized by the Minister to immediately respond to:

  1. a matter of national security;
  2. a national emergency in respect of which special temporary measures are being taken under the Emergencies Act (i.e., declared emergency); or
  3. an emergency that:
    1. poses a risk to public health, safety, the environment or property; or
    2. threatens to cause social disruption or a breakdown in the flow of essential goods, services or resources.

The Minister may issue an approval for an emergency work authorized under subsection 10.4(1), including its site and plans, if he/she considers the circumstances appropriate (e.g., permanent work on scheduled waterway or major work in any navigable water).

Other processes for reviewing works

Certain processes integral to reviewing works and issuing approval under the CNWA, such as depositing information, publishing notices, and assessing environmental impacts, may impede the ability of the NPP to ensure the ongoing safety of the public. As such, during a defined emergency, these processes may not be required.

When is it determined that the work meets the definition of an emergency work?

Some examples of possible situations where an emergency works authorization may be appropriate includes:

  • Repairs to a bridge piles/piers that are failing due to ice, severe weather damage or an accident (e.g., vehicle collision);
  • Unplanned repairs to a water treatment plant or fire suppression system intake where access to water supply is critical to the health and safety of the local population;
  • A collapsed culvert, bridge or trestle;
  • Cables attached to a bridge or other structure used to hold a capsized vessel while salvage or cleanup operations are undertaken;
  • Severe obstruction to marine aerodromes, or closure of main marine channels; and/or
  • Major marine pollution spills requiring structures in support of cleanup activities.

There are other cases where a Navigation Protection Program (NPP) Officer may decide to authorize emergency works. The NPP Officer may follow-up with these authorizations and may also prescribe terms and conditions that must be complied with.

These follow-up requirements are identified based on whether the emergency work is a:

  1. Temporary work located on either a scheduled or non-scheduled navigable water;
  2. Permanent work located on either a scheduled or non-scheduled navigable water;
  3. Major work (any navigable water);
  4. A combination of a temporary work and either a permanent work on a scheduled navigable water or a major work.

Steps for receiving an authorization for an emergency works

  1. Call or email the NPP Office of your region to submit the information related to the emergency work.
  2. Work may proceed without authorization if the work is:
    • Not within NPP mandate;
    • Located on a non-navigable waterway;
    • Not interfering with navigation;
    • A minor work.
  3. Minimum mandatory emergency work authorization information requested verbally or in writing:
    • Description of emergency nature;
    • Why work is required;
    • Location, legal land, coordinates, etc.;
    • Detail description of work.
  4. Work may proceed with authorization:
    • Description of terms and conditions in the authorization must be complied with;
    • Follow-up may be planned during or after construction.

The NPP Officer is required to provide subject matter expertise, or other support (within the NPP mandate) to TC or other government departments when needed.

For more information, contact the NPP office in your region with any questions or concerns.


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