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​​The Preservation of Migratory Birds: A Protection for People

Environmental laws can either directly or indirectly impact the wellbeing and health of people. In many instances, the connection is apparent. For example, there are laws in force to ensure that our water and air are free from toxic chemicals and pollutants. Laws protecting animals may also have an impact on public health, such as those regulating the trade of invasive species. There is one particularly powerful law with the ability to protect animals, the environment, and people, called the Migratory Birds Convention Act (MBCA).

Birds are commonly referred to as indicator species and are given this title due to the fact that they are influenced by changes in the environment.[1] When there is a decline in bird population sizes, it indicates that something is wrong with their surroundings. The cause could be anything from polluted air, the destruction of habitats, or toxins in the water. The MBCA is a critical protection for communities because it preserves animals that help us understand the condition of the environment. If a bird’s population size decreases, it acts as a sort of alarm bell alerting people to a disturbance in the ecosystem. Whatever is harming the bird populations is likely to have negative consequences on humans.

The MBCA was passed in 1917 as a result of a treaty Canada signed with the United States called the Migratory Birds Convention.[2] In order for a species to be considered a “migratory bird” and receive protections under the Act, there are three conditions which must be met:

  1. The bird species must be mentioned in Article 1 of the convention. This can either mean that they are explicitly listed or indirectly included by interpretation of the original convention;

  2. The species must be native or naturally occurring in Canada; and

  3. The species must be known to have regularly occurred in Canada.[3]

In addition to the MBCA, there are provincial and territorial statutes in place to protect bird species.[4]

The MBCA also acts as a deterrent for potential polluters. For example, in 2018, an oil spill occurred in Newfoundland and Labrador resulting in a leak of 250,000 liters of crude oil.[5] Environment and Climate Change Canada charged the company for violation of the MBCA, as even small amounts of oil can significantly impact bird populations as it prevents them from using their wings, causing them to drown.[6] Charges under the Act can lead to severe financial consequences ranging from a $5,000 to $8,000,000 fine depending on the type of offence.[7] This has the ability to act as a powerful motivator for individuals or corporations to take the necessary actions to prevent environmental damage such as oil spills.

The MBCA is just one example of how the law can benefit the interconnected relationship between the environment, animals, and people. The degradation of the environment and depletion of natural resources has the potential to have unforeseen effects on humans. It is through legislation and enforcement of laws like the MBCA that we preserve this relationship that is vital for all forms of life.

____ [1] Science Direct, “A state-of-the-art review on birds as indicators of biodiversity: Advances, challenges, and future directions”, online: <> [2] Government of Canada, “Birds Protected in Canada” (29 March 2021), online: <> [3] Ibid. [4] Ibid. [5] Canadian Lawyer, “Charges Laid Against Husky Oil Operations for Oil Spill,” online: <> [6] CBC, “Husky Energy Facing Federal Charges Related to 2018 Oil Spill,” online: <> [7] Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 SC 1994, c 22 at s 13.


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