UPDATE 1-NAFTA panel halts probe of Canadian oil sands oversight
(Adds comments from Suncor, government and quote from complainant)
By Mike De Souza
OTTAWA Jan 28 (Reuters) - A North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) panel has halted a probe of Canada's oversight of oil sands tailings ponds following a unanimous vote by its three member countries, officials said on Wednesday.
The vote came even after staff at the panel, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, had recommended proceeding with a formal investigation in response to complaints in April 2010 from three Canadians and two environmental groups.
The complainants argued that Canada was failing to enforce environmental laws related to alleged leaks from industry tailings ponds into water in northern Alberta.
The Canadian government's environment department said on Wednesday that it enforces its legislation related to tailings ponds through "proactive and reactive inspections and investigations."
The NAFTA commission initially agreed to investigate the allegations in December 2013, offering Canada the chance to respond.
Canada argued that the probe would interfere with ongoing provincial court proceedings initiated by a former Alberta environmental enforcement officer, who requested a review of tailings waste ponds operated by Suncor Energy Inc.
Both the officer, Tony Boschmann, and the company said that case had been dismissed. Continued...