An environmental organization created under the North American Free Trade Agreement has forwarded a request to Ottawa from environmental groups, asking the federal government to explain how it’s enforcing the Fisheries Act in the Alberta oil sands.

Two non-governmental organizations and three individuals submitted their concerns to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, a body created by NAFTA to address environmental issues that arise from continent-wide free trade.

They allege that Canada is failing to enforce the Fisheries Act and allowing tailing ponds to leak into fish habitat.

“We think it is a really good signal that a credible environmental trade body is voicing concerns,” says Hannah McKinnon of Environmental Defence, one of the groups that filed the complaint.

McKinnon says her group based its submission on academic and industry studies showing leakage from tailings ponds.

“The studies that we referenced when we made the submission showed that one Suncor tailings pond was showed to be leaking 6 million litres a day into the surrounding environment,” McKinnon says.

Daniel T'seleie was one of three individuals who also signed onto the complaint to the CEC.

"I don’t think we can hold out for some groundbreaking change from this,” T’seleie says. “This organization doesn't have any teeth.”

But T’seleie says the move is one way to make people more aware of a situation “that has been happening for decades.”

The CEC cannot form a conclusion nor make recommendations, but it can present the facts to government and the public.

The CEC has now forwarded the concern to Ottawa, giving the federal government 60 days to respond.