Politics

Canada says fix for garbage spat with Philippines on its way

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says she's hoping to figure out a way "in the coming weeks" to deal with the heaps of unwanted, rotting garbage shipped to the Philippines by a Canadian company years ago.

Filipino President Duterte lashes out over Canadian cargo of trash

Officials check a shipping container holding garbage from Vancouver in Manila in this undated, handout photo. (Philippines Bureau of Customs)

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said today she's hoping to figure out a way "in the coming weeks" to deal with heaps of unwanted, rotting garbage shipped to the Philippines by a Canadian company years ago.

Her comments came just hours after the president of the Southeast Asian country threatened to "declare war" if Canada doesn't deal with the waste issue immediately.

The international dispute has been brewing since 2013 and 2014, when a Canadian company shipped about 103 containers wrongly labelled as plastics for recycling to a port near the capital Manila. It escalated earlier this week when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to send the containers of decaying goods back to Canada.

"I'll give a warning to Canada maybe next week that they better pull that thing out or I will set sail," Duterte said Tuesday in a video broadcast by RTVM, the media arm of the president's office.

"I will declare war against them. I will advise Canada that your garbage is on the way. Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want to ... Your garbage is coming home."

McKenna said her department is working with Manila on the file, but added that threats aren't helpful.

"We're working very hard to address the issue of the garbage. I think that there is a solution that can be found in the coming weeks," McKenna said at an event in Montreal Wednesday.

"We also need to do this in a positive way. That's certainly the way we're going forward. It has been a file that's been going for a while. We're very close to finding a solution."

Canada losing credibility: MP

NDP MP Gord Johns, who has raised the issue in the House of Commons, said Canada's reputation is taking a hit over this dispute.

"It actually takes away our credibility in having conversations on these issues when we don't take action when a company, say, hasn't fulfilled their obligation," said the B.C. MP.

"I think Canadians expect our government to not just use rhetoric but actually take real action when it comes to disposing of our garbage and trash and plastics in a responsible way."

Canada falls under the United Nations Basel Convention, which aims to stop countries from shipping garbage to developing countries without their consent.

Some environmental lawyers have argued the shipment of trash to the Philippines violated Canada's international obligations.

"Whether it is a legal issue for Canada or not, it's a moral issue," said Johns.

"Right now [the government] is a laggard and this is an international incident ... It's brought shame on Canada and it's embarrassing for all Canadians."

In 2016, the Canadian government tweaked its laws on hazardous waste shipments, pointing to the Philippines case as a reason to update the regulations on exporting garbage.

With files from the Canadian Press

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