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. Philippine officials have asked Canada to take back the garbage.
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 before July.
The containers will be disposed of properly within Canada before the end of the summer, she said.
Canada is shouldering the cost of the shipment, which is not yet known, but intends to try and go after the Canadian firm which shipped it — a company that has since gone out of business.
Watch: A spokesman for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says the garbage dispute with Canada is “disruptive” to diplomatic relations. Story continues below.
“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.
Salvador Panelo, a spokesman for Duterte, held a news conference Wednesday to announce the president had 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 was willing to 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.”
The Philippine government recalled its ambassador and consuls in Canada last week over Ottawa’s failure to comply with a May 15 deadline to take back the garbage.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that Canada has been working hard with Philippine officials and hopes to strike a resolution shortly but did not specify a time frame.
In 2017, Trudeau said legal issues preventing the return of the garbage to Canada had been resolved.
Most of the shipping containers remain in two ports in Manila and northern Subic Freeport, sparking protests from environmental activists.
Duterte raised the garbage issue in a speech last month while officials from both countries were already discussing a resolution to the issue. The volatile president said he was ready to “declare war” against Canada over the issue.
Panelo said Duterte was upset “about the inordinate delay of Canada in shipping back its containers of garbage.” He continued: “We are extremely disappointed with Canada’s neither here nor there pronouncement on the matter.”
Panelo added that “Canada is not taking this issue nor our country seriously. The Filipino people are gravely insulted about Canada treating this country as a dumpsite.”
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke by phone with her Philippine counterpart, foreign secretary Teodoro Locsin, about the matter on Friday.
Duterte’s moves have been 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 that the Philippine military might use the aircraft in counterinsurgency assaults.
With files from The Associated Press