Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal


The North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC) is a side-agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to which the United States, Canada, and Mexico are signatory parties (Parties). A central feature of the NAAEC is its citizen submission on enforcement matters (SEM) process, by which citizens and citizen groups from any of the three signatory countries can call on the NAAEC Secretariat to consider whether a Party is failing to effectively enforce its environmental laws. To date, there have been eighty-one citizen submissions filed against the three Parties. Much of the scholarship surrounding the SEM process has concerned its efficacy, particularly from the perspective of citizens and non-governmental organizations. In contrast, there has been relatively little work done that seeks to understand the manner in which the Parties have interacted with this innovative SEM process. To assess whether and to what extent the SEM process is working, and to envision ways that the process (or analogous ones) might be improved, it is. important to gain a better understanding of how governments perceive and react to processes of this kind. This Article represents a tentative foray into this research area.

For this Article, we examined only SEM submissions against Canada. We used a case-study approach, selecting three cases that help illustrate any trend in the Canadian government's response to SEM submissions. We then sought to understand Canada's responses through three theoretical perspectives: realism, pluralism, and institutionalism. We begin by briefly describing the NAAEC and the SEM process in Part II. Part III lays out three cases in which submitters alleged that Canada had failed to effectively enforce its environmental laws and Canada's responses to each of them. This is followed in Part IV by a discussion of trends in Canada's responses arising from the case studies. In Part V, we analyze Canada's responses through three theoretical perspectives. Finally, Part VI concludes by offering insights for further research.