Accessing Genetic Resources in Canada

Purpose of this paper

We want to hear your views on how Canada should best promote access to genetic resources in Canada and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits gained from their use. This is the first step in a process of seeking your views, and should not be considered a formal consultation.


Feedback is essential to this process. We want to hear the views of you and your organization on the options and ideas presented in this document either online or by traditional mail.


  • 1) First point of contact is the Canadian ABS Portal
  • 2) Read through the documents provided
  • 3) Using the form available, submit your views on the questions in the spaces provided
  • 4) Use the general comments section at the end to outline other comments about ABS in Canada, or this engagement process

Traditional Mail:

You may prefer to send your response by traditional mail. If so, you can provide written responses to the questions, and/or your general comments using the form sent to you by mail. This form can also be downloaded from the website. Please complete, and mail to:

Access and Benefit Sharing
Environment Canada,
Ecosystems and Biodiversity Priorities
Place Vincent-Massey, 12th floor
351, Blvd. St-Joseph,
Gatineau, Qc.
K1A 0H3
Fax: (819) 953-1765

Why ABS is important for Canada:

Many Canadians are unaware that our country is a source of genetic resources that have potential or real value - especially from the boreal forests and extreme environments such as the deep sea, hot springs and the Arctic. Canada is also the source of new genetic resources generated by Canadian science and technology. Canadians (such as researchers at Canadian universities) use genetic resources from both Canada and from other countries in their research and as an input for product innovation.

How we manage access to Canadian genetic resources and the sharing of the benefits arising from their use is a challenge that touches on important goals of Canadians - conserving biodiversity, increasing our scientific knowledge, as well as supporting research and innovation in biodiversity and biotechnology. It also touches on some of our most important economic sectors - such as agriculture, forestry, fishing, biotechnology, and health care. The development of international and domestic ABS policies will be of interest to people and groups in regions across Canada, from a number of sectors. For example, scientists from Canada and other countries have already started to ask how they can gain access to genetic resources in diverse Canadian environments such as the Arctic and hot springs.

How we manage our genetic resources now:

There are currently some practices, laws and regulations in place that affect access to genetic resources and the arrangements for sharing benefits resulting from the use of those genetic resources. For example:

  • access to and collection of biological resources in national parks and other protected areas are often governed by permitting systems;
  • sometimes there is a contractual agreement between a scientist and a landowner for collection of specimens on the landowner's property, or
  • agreements to transfer material between academic institutions, researchers and private business

At this time, various industry sectors also have policies or practices in place that address elements of an access and benefit sharing regime, and in those cases ABS is mostly governed by the policies and practices of the institutions directly involved or by day-to-day practices. In addition the legally binding International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, developed by national governments at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization governs ABS in some segments of Canada's food and agricultural sector.

Between 2004 and 2006, the federal government held a series of workshops on ABS involving several groups in different regions of the country. Workshops were held with governments, Aboriginal and local communities in the North; representatives from the science and technology sectors; and stakeholders in the forestry and agriculture sectors. Reports from these workshops can be found in the Canadian ABS Portal.

In 2005, federal, provincial and territorial governments agreed on the following policy objectives and core principles to guide Canadian approaches to managing genetic resources. These principles are:

  • Environment-focused - contributing to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity;
  • Practical and Economically Supportive - generating and sharing economic benefits of the utilization of genetic resources among both providers and users as a means of contributing to sustainable development;
  • Simple, Efficient and Adaptable - taking into account different sectors and allowing for different approaches in different jurisdictions;
  • Supportive of current governmental policies, and building on and respecting Canada's existing international commitments;
  • Balanced, equitable and transparent - balancing responsibilities between users and providers of genetic resources in a manner that is clear and whose rationale makes sense to all concerned; and
  • Inclusive, developed and implemented with the appropriate involvement of Aboriginal groups and communities.

Current activities and next steps:

Canadian federal, provincial and territorial governments are currently considering how they can work together to realize the important benefits that genetic resources hold, and how the benefits from the use of genetic resources could be shared fairly and equitably. An additional consideration is how ABS policy in Canada could accommodate the traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources held by Aboriginal and local communities, which can advance the understanding of their properties, uses and importance.

In 2008, a Federal/Provincial/Territorial Task Group was established to examine the issue of ABS policy in Canada and to develop options for consideration by Canadians. The Task Group is being led by Environment Canada, with guidance from the Canadian Council of Resource Ministers.

Even though the process is still at an early stage, federal, provincial and territorial governments recognize that the views of Canadians on how to address access to Canadian genetic resources, how to share the benefits arising from their use, what sort of policy should be developed, and how such a policy would affect them are central to any decision on ABS policy in Canada.

This Discussion Paper identifies a range of options for ABS policy in Canada, and how policy might be implemented. Before beginning the process of identifying how ABS policy in Canada should proceed, we need your views on these options for ABS policy in Canada but also on any other options you think need to be considered. This is a very important part of the process, as the views heard from Canadians at this stage will assist in the development of a recommended policy option for the consideration of Ministers.


We will seek the views of Canadians in two ways:

  • Web and mail based process: We are inviting comments from any Canadian individuals and organizations interested in the future of how Canada manages access to and benefit sharing from the use of its genetic resources through a web site hosted by Environment Canada (see the information provided at the end of this paper for more information to see how you can participate). We expect to hear from Aboriginal peoples, academic researchers and scientists, representatives from industries that rely on biological and genetic resources for example biotechnology, forestry, agriculture, pharmaceutical, fisheries and aquaculture, as well as representatives from community groups and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
  • Face to face process: We will hold a workshop with some stakeholders to explore the issues in more detail. In addition, we will also hold a series of in-person meetings with representatives of national and regional Aboriginal organizations across the country and with Aboriginal peoples party to comprehensive land claims agreements and/or self-government agreements.

To help with your feedback on an ABS policy in Canada three broad questions are posed:

  • What should the approach be to ABS policy in Canada?
  • What are the choices for implementing ABS policy in Canada?
  • Should traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources be addressed within ABS policy in Canada? If so, how should it be addressed?