Canada hires firm to ship back garbage, will be done before end of June: McKenna

OTTAWA — Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says the Canadian trash that has been rotting in the Philippines for nearly six years will be back on Canadian soil before the end of June.

McKenna says the government has awarded a contract to a shipping company, Bollore Logistics Canada, that will return 69 containers filled with household waste and electronic garbage.

The containers are what is left of 103 containers shipped by a private Canadian company to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014 and labelled improperly as plastics for recycling.

The other 34 containers were already disposed in the Philippines, despite objections from local officials and environment groups.

McKenna says the waste must be “safely treated” to meet Canadian safety and health requirements before it can be shipped back but she anticipates all the containers will be returned to Canada by the end of June.

The containers will be disposed of properly within Canada before the end of the summer, she said.

McKenna has not indicated what the cost will be.

“Canada values its deep and long-standing relationship with the Philippines and has been working closely with Filipino authorities to find a solution that is mutually acceptable,” she said in a statement.

The announcement comes hours after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered his government to find a company to take the waste and then leave it in Canadian waters.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo held a news conference to announce that Duterte has ordered officials to look for a private shipping company to transport the garbage to Canadian territory in an escalation of his increasingly adversarial stance.

The Philippines will shoulder the cost of the garbage shipment, Panelo said.

“If Canada will not accept their trash, we will leave the same within its territorial waters or 12 nautical miles out to sea from the baseline of any of their country’s shores,” Panelo said.

“The president’s stance is as principled as it is uncompromising: The Philippines as an independent sovereign nation must not be treated as trash by other foreign nations.”

Panelo said Duterte was upset “about the inordinate delay of Canada in shipping back its containers of garbage,” adding “We are extremely disappointed with Canada’s neither here nor there pronouncement on the matter.”

“Obviously, Canada is not taking this issue nor our country seriously. The Filipino people are gravely insulted about Canada treating this country as a dumpsite,” Panelo said.

The garbage caused a diplomatic dust up between the two countries. It arrived during the term of the former Conservative government, which directed foreign affairs officials to negotiate a deal with the Philippines to dispose all the trash there or find another Asian nation willing to take it.

The Philippines objected and no other country agreed to accept the waste.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about it on visits to Manila in both 2015 and 2017, saying initially he couldn’t do anything about it because it was a private commercial transaction, and then later saying Canada was amending the law to prevent such shipments and that it was theoretically possible for Canada to take the garbage back.

Still Canada tried to convince the Philippines to dispose it locally, despite a 2016 court order there to have the waste returned to Canada. A working group of officials from both countries was established last fall to try and conclude the matter, with the main issue being who would pay for the cost.

In April, Duterte raised the stakes, threatening to “declare war” over the garbage and telling Canada he was going to ship it back if they didn’t do something about it by May 15. The threat worked with Canada agreeing to pay the costs and starting to look for a company to ship the containers back to Vancouver.

The May 15 deadline was missed, however, and the Philippines recalled its ambassador and consuls general last week, maintaining a diminished presence in Canada until the garbage is dealt with.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke by phone with her Philippine counterpart, foreign secretary Teodoro Locsin, Friday, about the matter.

Canada is shouldering the cost of the shipment but intends to try and go after the Canadian firm which shipped it — a company that has since gone out of business.

The garbage debacle is the latest strain in Philippine relations with Canada under Duterte.

Last year, Duterte ordered the cancellation of a multimillion-dollar agreement to buy 16 helicopters from Canada after its government decided to review the deal due to concerns the Philippine military might use the aircraft in counterinsurgency assaults.

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