The Canadian government is failing endangered species

The gap between what Canada says - and what it actually does - for conservation continues to widen, and it is wildlife who pays the price.

In the past two weeks, the government of Canada has come under fire several times over its complete lack of effort when it comes to the protection of endangered species. The gap between what Canada says - and what it actually does - for conservation continues to widen, and it is wildlife who pays the price.

Earlier this year, IFAW Canada learned that a $3 million dollar trade in endangered whale meat was taking right place under our noses.  When Opposition Trade Critic Don Davies took the Harper government to task over it earlier this month, Trade Minister Ed Fast had no response other than to say, somewhat unconvincingly, that “we stand up for the protection of endangered species.”

But that was just the beginning.  IFAW then brought to light that Canada is also neglecting to fulfill our obligations to other endangered species in trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). 

CITES is an international conservation agreement with the fundamental goal of ensuring that global commercial trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Roughly 36,000 species of animals and plants are protected against over-exploitation by CITES. Almost every country on earth is a signatory to this Treaty, and Canada was one of the first to join.

In March 2013, 76 new species were added to Appendix I and Appendix II of CITES.  Countries who are signatories to the convention are expected to amend their domestic legislation within 90 days, to give these species the protection they need within their borders. 

Canada has not only missed the 90 day deadline, we have failed to update our legislation for over 20 months - and have taken the unprecedented and unusual move of placing reservations on all 76 species that were added at the last CITES meeting.

Placing a reservation on a species signifies that a party does not accept the decision made by CITES, and is essentially a sign that they will not participate in protection for those particular species through CITES. 

This action defies logical explanation and raises serious questions about our commitment to CITES - and to protecting plants and animals - before they are gone forever.

But it gets worse. Canada is failing endangered species in our own backyard, too. A damning new scientific analysis by Canadian scientists shows that attempts to protect endangered species here at home are almost totally ineffective.  According to the study, 86% of species assessed multiple times since 1977 either stayed at the same risk level or deteriorated over time. The authors found that the status of species at-risk in Canada rarely improved, with only 5.7% of those assessed recovering to a “not at risk” status. 

A few days later, scientists reiterated concerns raised over a year ago that Environment Canada was still taking far too long to list species deemed at risk.  In fact, the process for listing species now appears to have stopped completely, with none of the 67 species recommended for listing under the Species at Risk Act since January 2011 given the additional protection they need.

Any discussion of endangered species in Canada would be incomplete without mention of polar bears, and our government’s inaction on protecting this species might come as a shock.  

A new study by researchers at the University of Alberta predicts that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, by the end of the century even the most remote areas of the high north will not be able to support a viable population of polar bears and more southern populations, like that in James Bay, may not even be worth trying to save.  World renowned Canadian polar bear researcher Andrew Derocher warns that Canada is doing so little research in the Arctic, that any changes in the High Arctic bear populations will not be detected until it’s too late to take any action.

Ironically, this is all making the news whilst Minister Aglukkaq is leading the Canadian delegation to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Lima, Peru. In her country address, Minister Aglukkaq said, “Canada is a country that has always done its part.” Sadly, this no longer seems to be true. We need to hold the government to account, so that words like this are not meaningless.


Send a letter to your MP, ask them to take action for endangered species.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
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Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Sonja Van Tichelen, Vice President of International Operations
Vice President of International Operations
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime