Tribunal gives Ontario Environment Ministry Broad Preventative Powers over Migrating Contamination

by Stanley D. Berger

On September 1, 2017, the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal in the matter of Hamilton Beach Brands Canada Inc. et al. v. the Director, Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change made a preliminary ruling that the Director had jurisdiction to make an order under s.18 of the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) requiring a person who owns or owned, or has or had management or control of a contaminated undertaking or property to delineate contamination that had already migrated to off-site properties. The property in question, formerly a small-appliance manufacturing business, was contaminated and the various contaminants were of concern to the Ministry, having migrated to other Picton residential, commercial and institutional properties where they might be entering nearby buildings by vapour intrusion. Section 18 of the EPA provides that the Director may make orders preventing, decreasing or eliminating an adverse effect that may result from the discharge of a contaminant from the undertaking or the presence or discharge of a contaminant in, on or under the property. The Director’s Order was challenged on three grounds:

  1. The adverse effect the Director could address was limited to a future event or circumstance (given that s.18 is prospective and preventative);
  2. The adverse effect had to relate to the potential off-site migration of a contaminant that was on an orderee’s property at the time the order was made;
  3. The order could require work only on site but not off-site, to address the risk of an adverse effect.

The Tribunal rejected all three arguments, reasoning that adverse effects resulting from contamination were frequently ongoing rather than static, with no clear line between existing and future effects. The Tribunal looked to the purpose of the EPA which was to protect and conserve the natural environment and found the orderees’ arguments were inconsistent with this purpose. Contamination and adverse effects were not constrained by property boundaries and therefore it was immaterial whether the contaminant was on the orderee’s property at the time the order was made. Finally, the list of requirements that could be ordered under s.18(1) EPA included off-site work. _________________

About the Author

Mr. Berger has practiced regulatory law for 36 years. He is a partner at Fogler Rubinoff LLP. He is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as a specialist in Environmental Law. He represents nuclear operators and suppliers in regulatory and environmental matters and in the negotiation of risk clauses in supply contracts and government indemnity agreements.He has prosecuted and defended environmental , occupational health and safety and criminal charges . He represents clients on access to information appeals before Ontario’s Freedom of Information Commission. He has also represented First Nations seeking equity partnerships in renewable energy projects. He started as an Assistant Crown Attorney in Toronto (1981), became the Deputy Director for Legal Services /Prosecutions at the Ministry of the Environment (1991) and Assistant General Counsel at Ontario Power Generation Inc.(1998-2012) During his 14 years at OPG, Mr. Berger won the President’s Award for his legal contribution to the Joint Review Panel environmental assessment and licensing hearing into the Nuclear New Build Project for Clarington . He won a Power Within Award for his legal support of the Hosting Agreement with local municipalities for the project to create a long term deep geologic repository for low and intermediate nuclear waste in Tiverton, Ontario.