When is a park protected?
In Canada, the answer is never.
It is ironic that one week after Canadian citizens celebrated Parks Day on July 17 that I am reading the shock, and in some cases, outrage, of Yukon citizens that fellow Canadians and international tourists should care about the integrity of a wilderness park.
The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, as well as the media and public, seem surprised that people from the Outside care about the wilderness of the Yukon.
But this wilderness is what draws Yukon’s second largest industry dollars Ã tourism. It is the reason why the cheechakos make their migration to explore and more often than not become sourdoughs and add to the territory’s growing and diverse population.
The Outside is fascinated with Yukon’s larger-than-life wild spaces. And the Outside is usually shocked and outraged when these wild spaces, which have been ostensibly protected by ‘park’ status, are being exploited for mineral and resource development.
Unfortunately, despite the celebrations on Parks Day, the sad truth is that most parks in Canada are as under threat of development as the areas just outside their boundaries.
The difference is that Canadians care more about what happens within a park and are more likely to act when these wild spaces are under threat.
Tombstone isn’t the only park in Canada with active exploration or existing development.
TransCanada Pipelines wants to run a natural gas pipeline through Kluane National Park, under Kluane Lake.
Nahanni National Park, in the NWT, recently expanded its boundaries in 2009 to encompass the whole watershed. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is recognized internationally for its unique beauty and biodiversity. Yet, there are pockets of unresolved mine claims, and the Prairie Creek mine along the Nahanni River because Ottawa didn’t have the power to reclaim the leases of that land.
Jasper National Park in Alberta has an oil pipeline running through it, altering water flow and quality. The pipeline also runs through Mt. Robson Provincial Park in BC. These are both parts of the Rocky Mountain World Heritage Site. And neither province, nor the federal government, could reneg on a 60-year-old agreement twinning Kinder Morgan’s oil pipeline to protect the integrity of these parks.
These are just a sampling of the exploitation that occurs within Canada’s protected parks.
It will shock most Canadians to learn the US has better protected national parks than Canada. Our parks are not truly protected because Canada’s resource extraction legislation trumps the Parks Act and almost all other legislation.
Resource extraction legislation favours the rights of special interest groups, often international companies from the Big Outside, over those of the Canadian public Ã private landowners, individual citizens, municipalities, provincial, territorial, and First Nation governments.
In 2008, after controversy caused by the chief and six council members of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation in northern Ontario being unjustly jailed for 68 days for preventing mining on their traditional territory, the province of Ontario committed to reviewing its century-old mining act.
Perhaps it’s time the rest of Canada does the same.