Blog Entry

NGOs Express Concern over Canada’s Engagement at the International Seabed Authority

Catherine Coumans

Ph.D. Research Coordinator and Asia-Pacific Program Coordinator

MiningWatch Canada is a signatory to the following letter sent to the Government of Canada on May 28, 2024 expressing concern over Canada's engagement at recent International Seabed Authority meetings where regulations to advance deep sea mining are being negotiated. Among other requests, the letter calls on Canada to attend upcoming ISA meetings in July with a renewed mandate that prioritizes good governance, Indigenous participation, and upholds commitments to ocean protection. 

Dear Honourable Ministers Joly, Wilkinson, Lebouthillier, and Guilbeault,

RE: Concern over Canada’s engagement at the International Seabed Authority.

We are a group of Canadian, Indigenous, and international organizations who advocate for ocean protection and are writing this letter for two reasons.

The first is to express our concern regarding Canada’s recent engagement at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) Council meeting, held in Kingston, Jamaica from March 18th - 29th. The second is to formally request Canada's commitment to several key actions at the upcoming International Seabed Authority (ISA) meeting in July 2024, which will be a critical meeting to determine the future of biodiversity protection in the Area.

Concern regarding Canada’s engagement at recent ISA Council meeting:

As civil society and Indigenous organizations who work to steward and protect the environment sustainably, we are disappointed by the lack of Canada’s voice on many critical issues at the March 2024 ISA meeting. At this meeting, agenda items on institutional governance, efforts to limit stakeholder participation, and the human right to peaceful protest were discussed. These discussions garnered attention from beyond ISA member states, with UN Special Rapporteurs Marcos Orellana and Michel Forst intervening. However, Canada did not intervene, and for those of us observing the meeting, we noted this as inconsistent with Canada’s commitments and positions taken publicly by your departments in other fora. Our specific concerns include:

  • On a proposal to change meeting modalities from open to closedsessions, in doing so limiting observer participation, many states—including Germany, Costa Rica, Brazil, France, Portugal, theNetherlands, Denmark, Ireland, and the Federated States ofMicronesia—defended stakeholder engagement. Canada did not intervene.
  • As a result of other country interventions, the meeting continued with plenary sessions, and Solomon Pili Kaho’ohalahala, also known as Uncle Sol, a Hawaiian elder attending the meeting as an observer, opened the discussion on Underwater Cultural Heritage. Canada said nothing in support of the Indigenous Pacific groups who traveled halfway around the world to discuss their connection to the Pacific and their concern for its future.
  • Many countries, including Portugal, France, the Netherlands, and Germany intervened to defend the right to peaceful protest at sea while Canada did not. The right to protest is a fundamental human right, and the ISA cannot limit it. We are concerned that Canada refused to defend the right to protest.

Recommendations for Canada at the July 2024 ISA Assembly Meeting

On July 10th, 2023, your offices issued a joint position on deep-sea mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction. The position articulates support for a moratorium on deep-sea mining and stresses that effective protection of the marine environment must be provided. The position further details that Canada will continue negotiating rules, regulations, and procedures that “ensure the prevention of damage from seabed mining activities to the marine environment”.

With this announcement, Canada joined 24 other countries (including G7 members France and Germany, as well as the Kingdom of Denmark, Ireland, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Palau, Vanuatu, and others) in calling for a pause, moratorium, or ban on the nascent industry. We welcomed this position and we consider it consistent with Canada’s other international environmental commitments and broader environmental policy.

We are writing to ask for your support and direction to your departments to ensure Canada is acting consistently with its position on deep-sea mining and positions across other international governance platforms, notably: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), The Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Treaty (BBNJ), the ongoing Plastics Treaty negotiations, and the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), as well as B.C.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA) and Canada’s United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (UNDA), where Canada prioritizes marine protection, the precautionary approach, science based decision making, and Indigenous rights.

We expect the July 2024 ISA meeting to be the most contentious and possibly important in the ISA’s history. We urge Canada to attend the July meeting with a renewed mandate that prioritizes good governance, Indigenous participation, and upholds commitments to ocean protection.

Specifically, we are urging Canada to prioritize the following as part of its delegation instructions at the July ISA meeting:

  • Canada supports the General Policy for the Protection and Preservation of the Marine Environment agenda item on the floor of the ISA and further supports its future elaboration (sponsored by Chile, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Palau, Vanuatu, Switzerland, Ireland, and Brazil).
  • Vocal and active support for an Article 154 review of the ISA, as proposed by Germany, which is mandatory every five years per the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention.
  • Expresses verbal and consistent support for stakeholder participation, transparency, and the upholding of human and Indigenous rights, in keeping with Canada’s general support for civil society engagement and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and our domestic legislation and Action Plan.

Yours sincerely,

Canadian Sign Ons:
Amnesty International Canada
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society
Clayoquot Action
Conservation Council of New Brunswick
David Suzuki Foundation
Development and Peace – Caritas Canada
Ecology Action Centre
Georgia Strait Alliance
Greenpeace Canada
Living Oceans Society
Materials Efficiency Research Group
Mining Justice Action Committee
MiningWatch Canada
Nature Canada
Northern Confluence Initiative
Oceans North
Pacific Peoples’ Partnership
Seablue Canada
South Shore Chapter of the Council of Canadians
Union of BC Indian Chiefs
West Coast Environmental Law

International Sign Ons:
Blue Climate Initiative
Blue Marine Foundation
The Ocean Foundation
The Oxygen Project
The Pew Charitable Trusts
Sustainable Ocean Alliance
Tetiaroa Society
Te Ipukarea Society

Full letter sent to the Government of Canada