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Transport Canada to launch First Nations vessel traffic monitoring program

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VANCOUVER, B.C. — Transport Minister Marc Garneau says efforts to protect Canada’s coastlines from vessel spills includes an “unprecedented level of collaboration” with Indigenous communities.

Garneau announced a pilot project under the $1.5-billion ocean protection plan to help Indigenous communities monitor vessel traffic while speaking to the Chamber of Shipping in Vancouver on Tuesday.

The project is being launched this fall in 10 communities including Haida and Gitga’at Nations on British Columbia’s north coast to test and develop new maritime awareness information systems in order to have a better understanding of the traffic around them.

“The second step, of course, is that the First Nations will be involved in the response because very often they’re the first ones there anyway and they have an intimate knowledge of the local waters,” he said.

Exact plans on how to improve emergency response, protect ecosystems and managing vessel traffic are being developed between government agencies and First Nations, he said.

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“We value and need their knowledge and expertise to be successful,” Gauneau said.

Responding to questions about how the new Indigenous rights framework announced by the government in February should be approached by sectors working with both parties, Garneau told the shipping industry to be “open-minded.”

“It’s not just a question of respect, it’s a question of actually acting,” he said. “Some organizations will be involved more than others … but it really, literally, is a new way of thinking about how we achieve reconciliation in this country.”

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Garneau said $1.2 million has also been awarded to Aqua-Guard Spill Response Inc. of North Vancouver for equipment to support the coast guard in spill clean-up.

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The announcement comes days after thousands of people in B.C. protested the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which would increase tanker traffic to the Burrard Inlet.

The project must already adhere to 157 conditions put forward by the National Energy Board, Garneau said, and the oceans protections plan will also contribute to increased marine safety.

Garneau said the pipeline expansion has been approved by the federal government, and while it doesn’t have unanimous public support, most Canadians want to see it built.

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“We think the majority of British Columbians are in agreement with us,” he said.

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