Apply for an exemption under the Canadian Navigable Waters Act

The Canadian Navigable Waters Act (CNWA) prohibits some activities that may interfere with navigation on navigable waters including:

  • throwing or dumping material (like sawdust, edgings, stone, gravel, etc.) into a navigable water, or a body of water that connects to a navigable water; and
  • activities that lower the water level of a waterway so that navigation is impossible.

If you'd like to do one of these activities, you can apply for an exemption (special permission). This page explains how to prepare and submit your request for an exemption.

The process requires that you provide all the necessary information in support of an exemption, including information on all factors (listed below) affecting the public interest.

Transport Canada (TC) administers the submission process to the Governor in Council (GiC) for the Order in Council (OiC). However, it is your responsibility to show to the satisfaction of the GiC that exempting the waterway in question from the application of section 21 and/or subsections 22 (1) and 23 (1) of the CNWA would be in the public interest.

On this page

Section 21 and Subsections 22 (1), 23 (1) and 24 (1) of the CNWA

Section 21 of the CNWA provides as follows:

No person shall throw or deposit or cause, suffer or permit to be thrown or deposited any sawdust, edgings, slabs, bark or like rubbish of any description whatever that is liable to interfere with navigation in any water, any part of which is navigable or that flows into any navigable water.

Section 22 (1) of the CNWA provides as follows:

No person shall throw or deposit or cause, suffer or permit to be thrown or deposited any stone, gravel, earth, cinders, ashes or other material or rubbish that is liable to sink to the bottom in any water, any part of which is navigable or flows into any navigable water, where there is not a minimum depth of 36 metres of water at all times, but nothing in this section shall be construed so as to permit the throwing or depositing of any substance in any part of a navigable water if it is prohibited under any other federal Act.

Section 23 (1) of the CNWA provides as follows:

No person shall take any action that lowers the water level of a navigable water or any part of a navigable water to a level that extinguishes navigation for vessels of any class that navigate, or are likely to navigate, the navigable water in question.

Section 24 (1) of the CNWA provides as follows:

The Governor in Council may, by order, exempt from the application of any of section 21 to 23, any rivers, streams or waters, in whole or in part, if the Minister receives an application for an exemption and the Governor in Council is satisfied that it would be in the public interest.

Determining next steps

TC will begin reviewing the application for exemption upon receipt of all required information. TC may also contact you during the review if additional information is needed.

Once you have met TC's information requirements, the issuance of the OiC will follow its course.

Note that if you are also proposing to construct or place a work (other than a minor work) subject to the CNWA on a scheduled waterway or a work designated as a major work, you must apply for that separately if the work may interfere with navigation. Please refer to the webpage "Apply to the NPP" for information on TC’s requirements relating to the approval of works.

Information requirements

The exemption process considers all relevant facts, not just those specific to navigation. TC has prepared the following list to assist proponents in developing a rationale evidence to support their application for exemption.

Project description

Describe your project in detail, and fully describe any prohibited activities. You can use the description from an environmental assessment (EA) or impact assessment (IA), and add relevant information that TC requires. Make sure to include any key maps and/or drawings.

Impacts to navigation and description of alternatives

Describe the waters and types of vessels that may be affected by the prohibited activities. Discuss the impacts to navigation that may result from the prohibited activities. This section should cover the impacts to navigation at every phase of the project (staging, construction, operation, etc.), including the impacts that will remain once the project is completed. Include remediation and restoration plans.

Describe what the alternatives are to engaging in prohibited activities and explore the feasibility of all potential alternatives. The proponent must clearly explain why the potential alternatives are not feasible.

Consultation information

Identify the stakeholders and Indigenous communities that your project will affect. Make sure to sum up their views and explain how you'll take them into account.

Describe your strategy for consulting with stakeholders and Indigenous communities about your project and the prohibited activities. Consider building on the stakeholder and Indigenous consultations for purposes of any EA or IA.

Include a summary of all the feedback (positive and negative) you've received from stakeholders and any affected Indigenous communities. Make sure to include your responses to this feedback as well. List which Indigenous groups you consulted, what concerns they raised, and how you're addressing these concerns.

Environmental assessment

Discuss the possible environmental effects of the prohibited activities and your project. Make sure to cover how big the impact may be, the size of the area that will be affected, how often the environment will change, and for how long. Make sure to include how reversible the effects may be.

Explain how your project and the prohibited activities could affect the environment, both positively and negatively. Explain what you'll do to limit any negative impact on the environment, and anything you could do to help or improve the environment.

Rationale in support of exemption

Provide the rationale in support of the issuance of an exemption to the application of the prohibitions under sections 21 and/or subsections 22 (1) or 23 (1) of the CNWA. The rationale should support your argument that allowing these activities would be in the public interest.

The rationale should include how the following factors apply to the proposed project and how any impact may be mitigated or addressed:

  • Public security: any potential impacts on public security.
  • Social and cultural: any potential impacts or implications for people's way of life, culture, community, political systems, well-being, personal and property rights.
  • Health and public safety: any potential impacts on human, animal or plant health or safety.
  • Economy: any potential impact or implications for business, consumers and jobs including impacts on affected sectors of the local and regional economies.
  • Other relevant public interest impacts.

Proponents may also discuss other relevant public impact areas not previously covered, including costs or savings to government, industry, consumers and Canadians as a result of the project; legal, policy or other related impacts.

What to expect once you have submitted all documents

Our review will begin once we receive all of the information listed above. Once we've receive all your documents, we'll:

  • assess your application to make sure it's complete and includes all the documents we need;
  • complete additional consultations as required;
  • assess how your project would impact navigation;
  • assess whether you need to consult and accommodate any Indigenous communities affected by the prohibited activities;
  • prepare a submission and ask Cabinet to approve the exemption; and
  • If the submission is approved, we will contact you to let you know, and the Order in Council will be published in the Canada Gazette, Part II.


If you still aren't sure of your specific requirements or application for exemption process, contact the NPP office in your region.

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