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Ottawa demands NAFTA body drop investigation into oilsands tailings

CALGARY - Ottawa is demanding the Commission for Environmental Co-operation drop its investigation into whether laws are being properly enforced when it comes to oilsands pollution.

Two environmental groups and three individuals complained in 2010 to the CEC, a body created alongside the North American Free Trade Agreement as a way for Canada, the United States and Mexico to address environmental issues.

The complainants assert the federal government has failed to enforce provisions in the Fisheries Act by allowing harmful substances to leak from tailings ponds into water sources downstream of the oilsands in northeastern Alberta.

The CEC demanded more information from Ottawa in December, but in a letter to the commission's secretariat last week, Environment Canada saids the CEC is acting "contrary to its authority" and demands it pull the plug on the process.

Environment Canada argues the commission can't press on with its investigation while a separate proceeding into the same issue is underway — in this case, a legal challenge mounted by citizens of Fort McMurray, Alta., in provincial court.

Hannah McKinnon, with Environmental Defence, calls Ottawa's response "brazen" and says it's another example of the federal government trying to stifle scrutiny of oilsands development.

The Canadian Press

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