Buzzing World

A primer on the IJC

October 1, 2009
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What the heck is the Interational Joint Commission? I found myself asking that same question when I came to the task of writing about it for one of my journalism classes. So what is it and why does it matter?

Some background info: The IJC is a binational (Canada and the U.S.) independent organization established waaaay back in 1909 by the Boundary Waters Treaty. It’s function is to study and assess environmental issues in the Great Lakes region, since they focus mostly on water quality of said basin, and any water that flows between the two nations. They’ve since evolved and taken on air quality issues as well.

Now, I’ll sum up what took me 750 words to write for class – it seems like the commission sounds all important and bureaucratic, but I’ve found from talking to IJC representatives that they really don’t have any mechanism of enforcement for any quality issues they find.

The commission works on a “request to review” basis where either of the two member governements submits a request to the IJC to research XYZ. The IJC uses an almost $16 million combined budget annually to finance the studies, their workers, etc. (*Canadian dollars converted to American and totaled. Budget info found through interviews with reps and this estimate)

Now, the funny thing is, this is a publicly funded organization. Yet, they are exempt from FOIA (freedom of information act) laws. This may be because of 1 of 2 (or more) reasons. 1, is they are a unique organization. Because it’s binational, there may be some statute of access in both countries, but not one that correlates to access in both. 2, it may or may not be stated they are exempt from FOIA in the treaty. Now as a busy college student I don’t have the 5 hours it takes to read it all and analyze legal jargon, but the info is there for you for the taking.

What interests me though, is what is all these money going for if they can’t even enforce any laws or actions based on their findings. What they do is make recommendations to the governements as to what the governments should do to correct any issue. And the recommendations aren’t even binding! Once the information is in the governments hands, it is up to them to act on it, implement a plan of action, or toss the report away.

So I still haven’t found an answer as to why the IJC is so important, but it should be noted that they are having a HUGE biennial meeting soon, and if this at all intrigues you, an MSU group is shuttling students there for free.


About author

I'm a journalism senior at MSU... finally! I'm anxiously awaiting a move to Detroit in the spring. I'm the photo editor and I occasionally write for which includes lots of photo essays and gathering audio. My interests include photography (obviously), astronomy, traveling, art, literature, languages, music, and society.