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Penalty Creep: What is going on with Environmental Fines Across Canada?

Written by Aaron AtchesonBryan SmitsDanielle ParryJulia Zanetti, Miller Thomson

In July of this year, a fine of $2.7 million was levied against Kirby Offshore Marine Operating LLC following its guilty plea for violations of the Fisheries Act involving a spill of diesel fuel and lubricants near Edge Reef in British Columbia.[1] Approximately 107,552 litres of diesel fuel and 2,240 litres of lubricants were released into the waters, both of which substances are considered to be detrimental to fish and migratory birds under the Fisheries Act. The nearly $3 million fine represents the largest fine that has ever been imposed following one single spill incident of a deleterious substance into water frequented by fish.[2]

The news of this massive fine raises a broader question: are the fines now being handed out for environmental offenses rising faster than inflation? And if so, to what end? Our review of penalty levels in Canada looks at the legislative changes in the minimum and maximum environmental fines, and whether these changes in the law are actually having any real effects on the quantum of fines environmental offenders are receiving. The recent Kirby headline of its $2.7 million fine suggests they are. And finally, is there any indication that these larger fines are changing behaviour?

Up, up, up: The Recent Pattern in Environmental Fine Laws

Ushering in the legislative shift at the federal level was the new Environmental Enforcement Act (EEA) enacted by the Conservative government in 2009. This legislation introduced a new fine regime that establishes mandatory minimum fines for individuals and corporations, as well as higher maximum fines for a new category of “designated offences”. The maximum fine for an individual convicted of a designated offence, upon indictment, became $1 million, with a mandatory minimum fine of $15,000. For corporations, the jump was even larger: a corporation can be subject to a fine of $6 million and a mandatory minimum fine of $500,000 for these offences.[3] Further, upon second and subsequent offences for a “substantially similar” offence falling under the EEA, all fines are automatically doubled.[4]

This pattern of handing out much higher fines for corporations than those for individual offenders is a recent phenomenon not confined to the federal regime. Under Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act (EPA), there are similarly substantial differences between fines charged to corporations and those charged to individuals. For instance, individuals charged with an offence under the EPA are subject to a maximum fine of $50,000 upon first conviction and $100,000 upon subsequent conviction,[5] whereas a corporation charged with the same offence would be subject to a maximum fine of $250,000 upon first conviction and $500,000 upon subsequent conviction.[6] Under Alberta’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, corporations are subject to fines 10 times those for individuals for the same offences: with a maximum of $100,000 for individuals and $1 million for corporations.[7]

Under Ontario’s EPA, the large majority of increases to maximum fines were enacted in 2005 under a provincial Liberal government. The maximum fine levels were almost doubled in 2005, and are now very significant amounts.[8] Even more dramatic has been the introduction of mandatory minimum fines for certain enumerated offences listed under subsection 187(3) of the Act.[9] For these specific offences, prior to 2005, individuals convicted would be subject, upon first conviction, to a maximum fine of $50,000 and upon subsequent conviction, a maximum fine of $100,000.[10] Following the 2005 changes, an individual is subject to not only a maximum fine of $4 million but also a mandatory minimum fine of $5,000.[11] This combination of maximum and minimum continues for second and subsequent convictions, resulting in an individual subsequently convicted of one of these offences facing a maximum fine of $6 million, and a mandatory minimum fine of $20,000.[12]

The provincial trend of increasing the maximum fines associated with environmental offences is not confined to Ontario and Alberta. The equivalent provincial legislation in Quebec, the Environment Quality Act[13], underwent a fivefold increase in its minimum and maximum fines in 2011.[14]

The introduction of these mandatory minimums is noteworthy, as it essentially removes judicial discretion in ordering a lower fine in appropriate circumstances; this contributes to the overall move towards higher fines. These substantial fines on the books signify a larger trend in the increasingly punitive way environmental offences are being enforced and penalized.

Application – Are these changes translating into higher average fines?

The recent pattern towards increased legislated maximum fines in and of itself is largely unsurprising, given the appeal of appearing “tough on environmental offences” in today’s political arena. But has this tough legislative stance actually had any bearing on the average fine being doled out to environmental offenders?

The short answer is that across Canada, in the past 2-3 years specifically, the data shows that regulators have been handing out stricter fines mirroring their tougher legislation, both in the frequency of fines being given for convictions and in the quantum of those fines on average.

While historically in Canada, environmental fines were used sparingly as enforcement tools to ensure environmental compliance compared to other jurisdictions, this approach underwent a dramatic shift in 2014.[15] As mentioned above, one significant aspect of this has been the introduction of mandatory minimums. This results in larger average fines, as judges no longer have the ability to order fines below applicable levels.

Further, the value of “large” fines (meaning, over $75,000) issued across Canada between 1991 and 2009 totalled an average of $1.4 million per year.[16] This has shot up to $3.9 million on average in 2015 to an average of $32.2 million in 2017.[17] While the total quantum of large fines and penalties has decreased to $15.7 million in 2018, the apparent “drop” in aggregate fines is based on one large fine having been levied in 2017 (see footnote)[18]. Excepting out this one fine, the trend has continued, as evidenced by an increase in the number of large fines and penalties issued, which has increased from 28 to 34 in 2018.[19] Compared against 2014, the total amount of fines issued in 2017 has increased by nearly $10 million.[20] Virtually all Canadian jurisdictions increased the amount of large fines issued in 2017 compared to 2016.[21]

Noteworthy Trends and Particularities

Although there has been a relatively consistent increase across Canada, there are a few regional particularities to take note of, including a regional divide from east to west regarding the focus of enforcement efforts. Western provinces have shown a commitment to cracking down specifically on water-related offences, while central and eastern Canada appear to target their large fines primarily on air matters.

The three provinces which have been the most consistent users of fines to enforce compliance with environmental laws are Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta.[22] In particular, Ontario has always been one of the most active jurisdictions in terms of enforcement of environmental laws by way of fines; of the total $26 million worth of environmental fines issued by both provincial and federal governments from 1991 until 2010, a whopping $14 million was collected in Ontario alone.[23] Ontario continues to lead the pack when it comes to the current trend of heftier fines in recent years, as it has undergone a 63% increase each year in average fine amount and its total fine amount has increased by almost $10 million in 2017 compared with 2014.[24]

Although all jurisdictions have contributed to this pattern of increasing fines, the most significant increases to happen in recent years have been in Saskatchewan, Quebec, and Alberta.[25] Quebec has had a dramatic increase in large fines, issuing over $9 million in fines in 2017, accounting for 29% of the total fines issued in Canada that year.[26] This spike in environmental fines by Quebec has been an extremely recent phenomenon, as Quebec issued zero “large” fines in 2015.[27] As well, a newcomer to the top 5 list of fine issuers in Canada is Saskatchewan, which levied $2.6 million in fines for environmental offences in 2017.[28]

There is also a regional divide between west and central/east Canada in their fine-issuing patterns whereby western provinces including B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan appear to be focusing their enforcement measures on water-related environmental offences,[29] provinces in central/eastern Canada, including the big fine issuers of Ontario and Quebec, appear to be utilizing environmental fines more to target air-related offences.[30] However, there appears to be a decrease in 2018 in the number of air-related fines compared to past years, while the “other” category is on the rise from 4% in 2017 to 33% in 2018. As well, water offences have become more of a nationally recognized enforcement priority across the country, now accounting for almost half of all large fines issued in Canada in 2018.[31]

Effects on Behaviour?

So, while it has been established that there is an intention to increase environmental fines through changes in legislation, and that such increases have actually happened, are these efforts changing behaviour? The answer appears to be yes, to a degree. Even though there is some discussion about the effectiveness of increased regulatory penalties on the levels of pollution, and the likelihood of materially contaminating events occurring,[32] there is a general consensus that a stringent deterrence regime incorporating significant fines is at least an element of an effective environmental harm reduction strategy.[33]

It will be interesting to observe developments unfold as regulators continue to implement and enforce these new, stricter environmental fine regimes on the books. Currently, the bottom line seems to be that environmental offenders, whether corporate or individual, wherever located across Canada, can expect to be met with heavier-handed treatment of the law. And, so long as the regulatory authorities provide direction on how to comply and to reduce risk, and have a record of enforcing the laws in place, it is likely to contribute to reducing contaminating activities in jurisdictions across Canada.


[1] “Use and Environmental Management of Natural Resources in Canada”, Dragun Corporation Environmental Advisors”, https://www.dragun.ca/environmental-management-of-raw-and-refined-natural-resources/.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Government of Canada, Fine Regime Under the Environmental Enforcement Act (14 June 2017), online: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/environmental-enforcement/acts-regulations/about-act/fine-regime.html.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Environmental Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.19 at s. 187(1) [EPA].

[6] Ibid at s.187(2).

[7]Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. E.12 at s.228(1) [EPEA].

[8] For instance, whereas prior to 2005 the maximum fine for an individual upon first conviction was $20,000 and upon subsequent conviction was $50,000, now, upon first conviction, an individual is subject to a maximum fine of $50,000 and upon subsequent conviction, a maximum fine of $100,000. (Ibid at s. 187(1).)

[9] Includes offences related to liquid industrial or hazardous waste; discharge of contaminants; and failing to comply with a term or condition of an environmental compliance approval, or other license or permit under this Act in relation to contaminant discharges (EPA, supra note 5 at s.187(3)).

[10] Ibid at s. 187(5).

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Environment Quality Act, CQLR c Q-2 [Environment Quality Act].

[14] Before this shift, individuals convicted of certain offences including the release of containments were subject to a mandatory minimum fine of $2,000 and maximum of $20,000; this is contrasted with the current version of the Act which features mandatory minimum fine of $10,000 and a maximum of $1 million for individuals convicted of the same offences. (Ibid at s. 115.32)

[15] Ibid at p. 2.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid at pp. 2-3.

[18] Note: The 2018 Berkley Canada Report shows that the quantum of Canada’s large environmental fines and penalties has been creeping up from 2014 until 2017 with what appears to be a sudden drop in 2018. However, it is important to note that this apparent decrease in 2018 is due in large part to a landmark case in 2017 wherein Volkswagen was fined $15 million as part of its settlement deal with the Competition Bureau of Canada, the most costly environmental fine ever given in Canada, for conducting misleading environmental marketing of certain diesel vehicles. Although this fine is noteworthy, it can alternatively be characterized as a Competition Act matter as opposed to a true environmental matter. Setting aside the Volkswagen fine, there was only a difference in total quantum of large fines handed out in 2017 compared to 2018 of $1.5 million. Additionally, the total number of large fines levied increased from 27 in 2017 to 34 in 2018. As a whole, the established pattern of Canada undergoing an overall increase in large environmental fines has continued into 2018.

[19] Berkley Canada White Paper, “Environmental Fines and Penalties Report, 2018 Update Report”, Berkley Canada White Paper (March 2019), at p. 4 [Berkley White Paper, 2018].

[20] Berkley Canada White Paper, “Environmental Fines and Penalties Report, 2017 Update” Berkley Canada White Paper (March 2018), at p. 6 [Berkley Canada White Paper, 2017].

[21] Ibid at p. 5.

[22] Ibid at p. 4.

[23] Nimonik, “Environmental Fines in Canada, 1990-2009” at p. 2 [Nimonik: Environmental Fines].

[24] Berkley Canada White Paper, 2017 supra note 19 at p. 5.

[25] Ibid at p. 5.

[26] Ibid at p. 4.

[27] Ibid at p.5

[28] Ibid at p 5.

[29] Some of the most noteworthy cases in recent years including offences and fines of $2.2 million for offences arising from logging operations and the improper construction of road and stream crossings in B.C., (“Canada: Logging Companies Fined $2.2 Million Under the Fisheries Act”, at: http://www.mondaq.com/canada/x/576972/Environmental+Law/Logging+companies+fined+22+million+under+the+Fisheries+Act.) $172,000 for a pipeline leak in Alberta (“Alberta Energy Regulator fines Murphy Oil $172,500 for 2015 Pipeline Spill”, at: https://calgaryherald.com/business/energy/alberta-energy-regulator-fines-murphy-oil-172500-for-pipeline-spill) $3.5 million for a wastewater leak from a dam failure in Alberta (“Coal Mine Fined $4.5 Million for 2013 spill that contaminated Athabasca River”, at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/obed-mountain-mine-fine-athabasca-spill-1.4154792.), and $1.4 million for the discharge of effluent into water frequented by fish in violation of the Fisheries Act in B.C. (“B.C. Coal Mine Company Teck Fined $1.4 Million for Polluting B.C. River, at: https://thenarwhal.ca/b-c-coal-mine-company-teck-fined-1-4-million-polluting-b-c-river/.).

[30] For example, handing out fines for offences such as fines of $175,000 for releasing incinerator ash into the environment in Ontario (“Toronto Company fined $175,000 for Environmental Protection Act Violations” at: https://news.ontario.ca/ene/en/2017/02/toronto-company-fined-175000-for-environmental-protection-act-violations.html.) $265,000 for selling of aerosol products containing ozone-depleting substances in Ontario (“Fastenal Canada fined $265K for selling aerosols with banned HCFCs” at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/kitchener-fastenal-fined-environment-hydrochlorofluorocarbons-1.4289116.), and $765,000 for the release of PCBs into the environment and the failure to notify in Quebec (“The Hudson Bay Company located in Montreal fined $765,000 for a large release of polychlorinated biphenyls into the environment”, at: https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/the-hudson-bay-company-located-in-montreal-fined-765-000-for-a-large-release-of-polychlorinated-biphenyls-into-the-environment-606054136.html.).

[31] Berkley Canada White Paper, 2018 supra note 18 at p. 5.

This miscellaneous ”other” category of fines which shot up in 2018 includes a $2.75 million fine arising from the death of migratory birds and a $1.25 million penalty arising from the importing of fuel in violation of the Renewable Fuel Regulation.

[32] Neil Gunningham, Enforcing Environmental Regulation, Journal of Environmental Law, Volume 23, Issue 2, July 2011, Pages 169–201, https://doi.org/10.1093/jel/eqr006 [Gunningham, Enforcing Environmental Regulation].

[33] Gunningham, Enforcing Environmental Regulation, supra note 31 at p. 186.

Bryan C. Williamson, Do Environmental Regulations Really Work?, The Regulatory Review, November 2016, https://www.theregreview.org/2016/11/24/williamson-do-environmental-regulations-really-work/.

Will Amos, Federal government’s enforcement of environmental laws is weak, Ecojustice Blog, December 2011, https://www.ecojustice.ca/federal-governments-enforcement-of-environmental-laws-is-weak-report/.

Joseph Castrilli, Canada’s main environmental law isn’t working, Canadian Environmental Law Association, August 2016, https://www.cela.ca/blog/2016-08-22/canadas-main-environmental-law-isnt-working.

This publication is provided as an information service and may include items reported from other sources. We do not warrant its accuracy. This information is not meant as legal opinion or advice.

This article has been republished under general permission of Miller Thomson.  It was first published on the Miller Thomson website.

Diving deep into Redwater – Supreme Court Says Trustee in Bankruptcy can’t cherry pick Environmentally Clean Assets

Written by John Stefaniuk and Scott Birse, Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP

The Supreme Court of Canada released its much anticipated decision in Orphan Well Association v. Grant Thornton Limited (a case more commonly known as Redwater) on January 31, 2019. You might recall our article on the Alberta Court of Appeal’s decision in the same case.

In Redwater, the courts had to decide whether bankruptcy law trumped provincial regulatory orders issued in Alberta. Redwater Energy Corporation (Redwater) was an oil and gas developer.  It held a number of development properties under the authority of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER).  With the slump in oil prices, Alberta Treasury Branches (ATB), Redwater’s primary lender, called its loan. ATB appointed Grant Thornton Ltd. first as receiver and subsequently as trustee in bankruptcy of the estate of Redwater under the federal Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA).

In the course of examining Redwater’s realizable assets, Grant Thornton became aware of outstanding environmental reclamation obligations that were associated with some of Redwater’s non-producing properties.  Grant Thornton decided to put the valuable, producing wells and other “clean” assets up for sale, and to walk away from the remaining assets by renouncing them under the BIA. That resulted in putting the reclamation in the lap of the Orphan Well Association (OWA), an industry-funded organization set up in Alberta to administer a fund established for the purpose of reclamation of “orphan” properties.

The AER refused to allow the transfer of the productive licences. It issued abandonment orders requiring clean-up or posting of security for clean-up costs in relation to the renounced assets. The parties headed to court to see what would become of the value that could be realized for the retained assets. Both the trial court and the Alberta Court of Appeal would have allowed Grant Thornton to leave the liabilities behind.

In the majority decision written by Wagner C.J., the Court applied a three-part test found in another Supreme Court of Canada case decided in 2012, Newfoundland and Labrador v. AbitibiBowater Inc. The majority of the Court held that the reclamation claims were not  a debt, liability or claim owing to a creditor and that they were too remote to attach a monetary value. That meant that two of the three criteria in the Abitibi test were not met. The Court therefore held that the bankruptcy did not have the effect of undoing the orders and the trustee could not cherry-pick the valuable assets while renouncing the rest.

This was a bit of a surprise to many environmental law practitioners, including most of the ones I attended a conference with just a few weeks prior to the decision.

What then, is the upshot?

Ostensibly, this is good news for provincial regulators. It is more likely that their enforcement orders will be found to continue to be binding upon corporations in bankruptcy. While it does not make receivers or trustees in bankruptcy personally responsible for rehabilitation costs, it does mean that the proceeds of sale of the valuable assets may have to be put toward satisfying those orders before any of it is available to lenders and other creditors. That means less costs potentially borne by the provinces (and their taxpayers). Predictably, lenders do not seem to garner a lot of public sympathy.

On the other hand, (assuming no changes to the BIA) the decision means that lenders and other creditors will have to pay closer attention to the borrower’s unfunded clean-up and closure costs when extending and monitoring credit. If the lender no longer has the ability to deal with valuable assets and leave the “dirty” behind, it means that credit in environmentally sensitive sectors may become tighter, reporting requirements may become more onerous, and some lenders may become skittish.

The dissenting minority decision written by Côté J. said the majority decision was not based on “polluter pays”, but instead resulted in a regime of “lender pays”.  After all, it is always open to the provinces to require permittees and licensees to post better (and more) security to fund rehabilitation costs, and to carry out better monitoring and inspections to ensure that the security is really adequate to fund clean-up. On top of that, who is in a better position to monitor environmental compliance and reclamation costs, the regulator or the bank? Surely, the regulators have better expertise and, assuming proper funding from government, better resources to carry out the work. Indeed, the regulators also wield the bigger stick – fines and penalties – whereas the most that the lender can do is either refuse to lend, lend less, or call in a loan where potential trouble is spotted. By the time that issues are obvious, the lender may choose to let things ride, so long as payments are being made, rather than force a realization that could put its security at risk. It is difficult to see how that serves environmental protection.

In some respects, the decision can be seen as a bit of a “Get out of Jail Free” card for the provinces and their resource and environmental regulators. No doubt that is the way that ATB felt about it.

This article has been republished with the permission of the authors. It was first published on the TDL Law website.


About the Authors

John Stefaniuk engages in a broad practice with emphasis on environmental law, real estate and development law, natural resources and energy, commercial law and municipal law matters. He has particular experience in relation to contaminated sites, mining and mine rehabilitation, wind power development, natural resource development, environmental approvals and licensing, commercial real estate, leasing, financing and development, municipal approvals, taxation and assessment and business acquisitions. He appears regularly before government licensing bodies and administrative tribunals including the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission and Municipal Board, municipal councils, provincial legislative committees and in all levels of court in Manitoba and in the Federal Court in connection with environmental, resource, regulatory municipal, and property issues.

Scott Birse has a broad practice with a particular emphasis on environmental law, municipal law, real estate and development law, regulatory compliance, commercial law and related litigation. He has particular experience assisting clients in the areas of environmental liability in real estate transactions and business acquisitions, municipal planning and approvals, contaminated sites liability, environmental assessments, commercial real estate development and civil litigation. Scott has appeared before municipal tribunals, the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench and the Manitoba Court of Appeal. He has also advised clients with respect to municipal and environmental matters in Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

Expanding Redwater Beyond Oil And Gas: Can Other Regulators Enforce Orders In An Insolvency?

Written by Alan Harvie, Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP

The Supreme Court of Canada recently released its decision in Orphan Well Association v Grant Thornton Limited, (Redwater). The majority ruled that a bankrupt oil company’s estate remained liable for well closure and environmental obligations in priority to the company’s creditors, including its secured creditors.

Although Redwater dealt with the Alberta Energy Regulator’s (AER) powers to order a bankrupt oil company to close oil and gas wells, the decision can likely be used by regulators in other industries to ensure compliance with environmental and other laws.

Provable claims

The concept of a provable claim is central to Canadian insolvency law. Once insolvency proceedings start, a regulator trying to enforce a compliance order that is considered a provable claim against the insolvent company is typically stayed by the court (i.e. stopped) from enforcing it. Conversely, a non-provable claim is not stayed and can be enforced.

In Redwater, the company entered receivership proceedings and the AER ordered the company to abandon and permanently close various wells by pumping cement down the well bore, cutting and capping the top of the well and removing surface equipment so as to leave the well in a safe state in perpetuity. The receiver argued the abandonment orders were stayed and sought to sell a package of Redwater’s assets to a third party and use the proceeds to pay the secured creditor.

The matter ended up in the Supreme Court, which considered the historical test of what constituted a provable claim by a regulator in an insolvency set previously by it in Newfoundland and Labrador v AbitibiBowater Inc., namely that there must be a debt, liability or obligation to a creditor, that it be incurred before the bankruptcy and that it must be possible to attach a monetary value to the debt, liability or obligation.

The Supreme Court in Redwater noted that although a regulator can be a creditor with a provable claim, a regulator exercising an enforcement power is not always one. The court noted the AER’s abandonment orders did not require the company to pay the AER, but instead to do something, namely to permanently close the wells. It was not sufficiently certain that the AER would itself perform the well abandonments if the company failed to do so and then advance a claim for reimbursement of the costs. Indeed, the AER was not in the business of abandoning wells and had no statutory duty to do so.

The Supreme Court distinguished AbitibiBowater by noting in that case the provincial government had expropriated a number of AbitibiBowater’s properties without compensation. The company entered creditor protection and responded to the expropriation by filing a NAFTA claim for compensation. The province then issued environmental clean-up orders that the government hoped to use to set off against the NAFTA claim.

The court clearly saw the province as seeking a direct financial benefit from the clean-up orders. It pointed out the orders’ timelines were not realistic, showing the province did not intend the orders to be complied with. The company also could not access some of the properties to undertake the work due to the expropriation. The court felt the ultimate purpose of the clean-up orders was not to have the properties remediated, but to create a set-off in response to the NAFTA compensation claim. Hence, the company owed a debt to the province to which monetary value could be attached.

In Redwater, the court found the regulator was acting in a bona fide regulatory capacity and did not stand to benefit financially from the abandonment orders. Unlike in AbitibiBowater, the AER had no ulterior motives in issuing the orders. It was acting in the public interest and for the public good. It was not enforcing a debt but was instead enforcing a general law of the province.

The court found that bankruptcy was not a license to ignore the rules, and the bankruptcy trustee was bound by and must comply with valid provincial laws. Hence, the abandonment orders were not provable claims in the bankruptcy and were not stayed. The court ordered the proceeds of sale of Redwater’s assets in the bankruptcy proceeding be used to pay for the well abandonment costs to the preference of the company’s secured and other creditors.

Other regulators are likely paying attention

Regulators in other industries trying to enforce environmental protection legislation against insolvent companies are undoubtedly paying attention and considering if they can enforce their legislation in preference to an insolvent company’s creditors. It appears many have the power to do so.

For instance, Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) has the authority to issue environmental clean-up orders in response to a spill under Alberta’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. Such orders can require the company to investigate, take any action specified, minimize and remedy the effects of a spill and restore the environment. Although AEP can in certain instances claim costs incurred in enforcing the legislation, there is no requirement for it to do so.

Similarly, in British Columbia the director under the Environmental Management Act can issue a pollution abatement order in response to a spill event to any of the person who controlled the substance that caused the spill, the person who owns or occupies the land on which the substance was located prior to the spill, or a person who caused or authorized the pollution. The director may also issue a remediation order against one or more responsible persons for a site to undertake remediation.

Likewise, under Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act a director with the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks may order a person who discharges a contaminant into the environment to repair injury or damage to land, water, property, animal life, plant life or human health. The order can include requiring the person to construct and install devices, equipment and facilities, and to develop and implement plans to remediate contamination. Although the ministry may require a polluter to pay the ministry’s costs and expenses in responding to a spill, the ministry does not have to do so.

When faced with an environmental problem caused by an insolvent company, it is reasonable to expect provincial and federal environmental regulators to try to use their enforcement powers such that they fall under Redwater rather than AbitibiBowater by crafting their enforcement orders so as not to create a provable claim.

It is also reasonable to assume regulators concerned with issues besides environmental ones in the Alberta oil and gas industry are taking a close look at Redwater. Regulators of mining, forestry, transportation, agriculture, fishing and numerous other regulated industries and activities in Canada come to mind.

Secured creditors across Canada should take note

Time will tell if Redwater will be applied more broadly than to environmental obligations of an insolvent oil company. We assume regulators will try to use Redwater when faced with an insolvent company with regulatory obligations.

Secured creditors in many other instances and industries in Canada should consider what the potential shift in traditional priorities to a bankrupt’s estate might mean to repayment of their secured loans. Borrowers should consider the implications of lenders less willing to provide financing. It is also likely that lenders will want a comprehensive understanding of a borrower’s regulatory obligations and will expand their lending due diligence to understand a borrower’s assets retirement obligation and require stricter covenants in loan agreements.

The ultimate outcome of a borrower in a regulated industry becoming insolvent will be governed by the facts of each case and the particular enforcement strategies regulators use to prevent enforcement orders being provable claims and having their orders stayed upon an insolvency. It is clear, however, that Redwater will have future implications to lenders, other creditors and borrowers in many industries.


About the Author

Alan Harvie has practised energy and environmental/regulatory law since 1989 and regularly deals with commercial, operational, environmental and regulatory issues, especially for the upstream oil and gas, energy, waste disposal and chemical industries. He is a member of our energy and environmental departments. 

Mr. Harvie also has significant legal experience acting for the oil and gas industry in commercial transactions and regulatory matters, including enforcement proceedings, common carrier and processor applications, forced poolings, downspacings and holdings, rateable take, and contested facility, well and pipeline applications. He has also dealt extensively with commercial, environmental and regulatory issues concerning thermal and renewable power plants, electrical transmission and distribution lines, tourism and recreation projects, forestry, mining, agriculture, commercial real estate, industrial facilities, sewage plants, hazardous waste landfills and treatment facilities, transportation of dangerous goods and water storage reservoirs. 

About Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP

Norton Rose Fulbright is a global law firm. We provide the world’s preeminent corporations and financial institutions with a full business law service. We have 3800 lawyers and other legal staff based in more than 50 cities across Europe, the United States, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Australia, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

United States: When Is Property Damage From A Release “Expected Or Intended”? Only After The Owner Learns Of The Spill And Ignores It

Written by Seth JaffeFoley Hoag LLP

Any good trial lawyer will tell you that the law is about telling stories.

Once upon a time, Timothy and Stacy Creamer bought a house.  Only after they closed did they realize that some strategically placed rugs were hiding the evidence that, “up from the ground come a bubblin’ crude.”

Unlike Jed Clampett, rather than finding themselves millionaires, the Creamers found themselves with a million dollar liability – literally.

This being a law story, of course the sellers were bankrupt.  The Creamers thus pursued the sellers’ insurer.  The case ended up in the Appeals Court, which held that the Creamers could pursue their claims under the policy.

The insurer, Arbella, made three arguments in support of its summary judgment motion.  The Court rejected them all.  In order, the Court held that:

  1. The property damage was caused by an occurrence.  Arbella argued that the damage was caused by the sellers’ fraud, not by the original release of oil.  However, as the Court pointed out, the Creamers’ had claims based on Chapter 21E, the Commonwealth’s superfund law.  Since Chapter 21E is a strict liability statute, the Creamers’ damages were caused by the release, not by the sellers’ fraud.  (But see number 3, below!)
  2. The loss occurred during the policy period.  Following precedent, the Court concluded that, so long as the property damage occurred during the policy period, it did not matter that the harm to the claimant did not occur until later.
  3. At least some of the damage was not “expected or intended.”  This is the most significant part of the case.  While preserving Creamers’ claims, the Court split the baby on this one.  It held that the original release was not expected or intended, but that, once the sellers discovered the spill without doing anything about it, any further damage was “expected” by the seller.  The Court thus remanded for a determination by the Superior Court how much of the total property damage was “expected.”

The Creamers will thus get their day in court, but, depending on when the sellers learned of the contamination, their recovery could be significantly limited.  They certainly will not get enough to move to Beverly Hills.  No swimming pools or movie stars for the Creamers.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

About the Author

Seth Jaffe is recognized by Chambers USA, The Best Lawyers in America and Massachusetts Super Lawyers as a leading practitioner in environmental compliance and related litigation. He is one of the authors of the Law and the Environment Blog, www.lawandenvironment.com, which provides real-world perspectives on current developments in environmental law and regulation. Seth is a past President of the American College of Environmental Lawyers.

Seth works on a wide range of environmental law issues, representing clients in the permitting/licensing of new facilities and offering ongoing guidance on permitting and enforcement related matters under federal and state Clean Air Acts, Clean Water Acts, RCRA, and TSCA. He also advises on wetlands and waterways regulation. Seth’s clients include electric generating facilities, companies in the printing and chemical industries, and education and health care institutions.

Leaking Sewers Cost City 50% of Dry Cleaner Site Cleanup Costs

Written by John A. McKinney Jr., Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC

Are you in a case where an on-site and off-site groundwater plume of dry-cleaning solution (perchloroethylene or PCE) or other hazardous substance is intersected by sewers through which the used and disposed solution flowed?  If so, the case of Mission Linen Supply v. City of Visalia (2019 WL 446358) bears your close review.

Based on the facts and expert testimony adduced at the bench trial, the court determined that: 1) the sewers were installed by the City below general industry standards; 2) the City sewers had numerous defects including holes and broken pipes, cracks, separated joints, missing portions of pipes, root intrusion and other conditions; and, 3) PCE was released into the environment as a result of these defects.

Pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (42 U.S.C. § 9601 et seq.), the two dry cleaners who operated at the site and the City were found liable.  In allocating the future cleanup costs, the court determined the equitable basis for allocation was the plume itself.  The prior dry cleaners were responsible for the on-site costs and the City was responsible for the off-site costs “because the City’s defective/leaking pipes transported and spread the PCE beyond the property boundaries.”   50% of future costs were assigned to the City.

A review of this case’s Findings of Fact show what expert testimony and evidence is necessary to reach the result reached by this court.  The case is also a warning to municipalities with sewer lines intersecting cleanup sites or what could become cleanup sites.  Do not fail to regularly and properly maintain your sewer systems.


This article has been republished with the permission of the author. It was first published on CSG’s Environmental Law Blog.

About the Author

John A. McKenney Jr. has been a frequent speaker at conferences and continuing legal education programs. For 18 years, John was on the faculty of Seton Hall University School of Law as an Adjunct Professor where he taught New Jersey Environmental Law. He also served as moderator of the ABA satellite seminar on Hazardous Waste and Superfund.

John is a co-editor of the ABA publication, CERCLA Enforcement – A Practitioner’s Compendium of Essential EPA Guidance and Policy Documents and co-authored the Generators’ Obligations chapter of the ABA’s RCRA Practice Manual. The standard form group agreement used at many remedial sites around the nation is based on a version he developed for The Information Network for Superfund Settlements.

Canada: Environmental Issues In Expropriation

Article by Chidinma Thompson, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP

A. Indirect Expropriation through Environmental Regulation

Claims for indirect expropriation may arise through environmental regulatory regimes. Where legislative schemes operate to interfere with existing property rights, such interference may constitute de facto, or indirect, expropriation. One example of a legislative regime that has been the subject of indirect expropriation claims is the federal Species at Risk Act1 (the “SARA”). Under the SARA, the Governor in Council is empowered to make emergency orders to provide for the protection of certain wildlife species.2 The emergency protection order may extend not only to Crown land, but also private property.3 The SARA provides for a limited compensation scheme. The Minister may provide for reasonable compensation for losses suffered “as a result of any extraordinary impact of the application of” the emergency protection order.4 The Governor in Council may make regulations with respect to the procedures to be followed and the methods to be used to determine the compensation.5

The sage grouse order exemplifies how a SARA emergency protection order may give rise to an expropriation claim. The sage grouse order was the first emergency protection order to be issued under section 80 of the SARA. It was issued to protect the greater sage grouse population in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and came into force on February 18, 2014. The sage grouse is an endangered species under the SARA and Alberta’s Wildlife Act.6 Under the Wildlife Act it is an offence to “willfully molest, disturb, ore destroy a house, nest or den” of sage grouse. The sage grouse order restricted activities on 1,672 km2 of provincial and federal Crown lands in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan.

A Sage Grouse (Photo Credit: Miles Tindal / Calgary Herald)

In The City of Medicine Hat et al v Canada (AG) et al,7 LGX Oil and Gas and the City of Medicine Hat, which had interests in the Manyberries oil production site that was affected by the sage grouse order, brought a judicial review and constitutional challenge of the sage grouse order at the Federal Court of Canada. The applicants successfully resisted a summary dismissal motion brought by the Crown and subsequently commenced an action at the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench for $123.6 million in compensation (including accelerated reclamation costs) for de facto expropriation of existing oil and gas mineral rights, leases and rights-of-way. This case is ongoing. At this point, the Governor in Council has not made regulations with respect to compensation. The Crown pleads that the emergency protection order is regulatory and, in the alternative, that compensation under the SARA is discretionary. In the further alternative, the Governor in Council had chosen not to make regulations, and the emergency order did not have an “extraordinary impact” on the plaintiffs.

Another case was Groupe Maison Candiac Inc v Canada (AG).8 This case concerns the second emergency protection order made under the SARA, which protects the western chorus frog. The western chorus frog is listed on the SARA’s list of endangered species as a threatened species in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. The emergency protection order prohibits excavation, deforestation and construction within a two km2 area in the municipalities of La Prairie, Candiac and St-Philippe, Quebec to protect the frog and its habitat. This order was the first time a SARA emergency protection order restricted development on private land.

As a result of the western frog order, Groupe Maison Candiac Inc. (“Groupe Maison”) was forced to reduce its residential development by 171 units after construction was already underway and Groupe Maison had obtained the requisite municipal and provincial approvals. Groupe Maison brought a judicial review of the emergency protection order by way of a constitutional challenge and an expropriation claim. The Federal Court dismissed the application, finding that: (1) section 4(c)(ii) of the SARA is within the federal government’s jurisdiction over criminal law; and protected by the doctrine of ancillary powers, including jurisdiction over peace, order and good governance; (2) the western chorus frog order did not amount to expropriation that required compensation; and (3) the Parliament had already provided a mechanism for compensation under the SARA that applies in “extraordinary circumstances.”

In 2017, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change received three petitions to recommend to the Governor in Council for an emergency order to protect the southern mountain woodland caribou population. The Minister conducted an Imminent Threat Assessment and, on May 4, 2018, determined that the southern mountain caribou faced imminent threats requiring intervention for recovery. An emergency protection order may be forthcoming for Alberta and British Columbia. The SARA public registry and the Canada Gazette will provide updates on this matter.

B. Polluter Pays in Expropriation of Contaminated Lands

Alberta’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act9 (the “EPEA”) is another environmental protection legislation that affects expropriation claims. As one of its purposes, the EPEA adopts the “polluter pays” principle to address contamination. The EPEA includes three regulatory mechanisms with respect to contamination: (1) Part 5 Division 1 concerns the release of substances generally; (2) Part 5 Division 2 concerns contaminated sites designation; and (3) Part 6 deals with conservation and reclamation. Further, the EPEA expressly acknowledges an affected person’s recourse to court through private civil claims.10 Some of the key concepts related to the three regulatory mechanisms are considered below.

Part 5 Division 1 of the EPEA deals with the release of substances into the environment. Under section 112, the person responsible for the substance has the duty to take remedial measures with respect to any release of same.11 Environmental protection orders may also be issued to the person responsible for the substance where the release is causing, has caused or may cause an adverse effect.12

The statutory definition of “person responsible” includes: (1) owner and previous owner of substance; (2) every person who has or has had charge, management or control of the substance; (3) successor, assignee, executor, administrator, receiver, receiver‑manager or trustee of (1) to (2); and (4) principal or agent of (1) to (3).13 The “person responsible’ excludes, unless they release new or additional substances: (1) a municipality in respect of land shown on its tax arrears list, or land acquired by it by dedication or gift of an environmental reserve, municipal reserve, school reserve, road, utility lot or right of way; (2) a person who investigates or tests the land for the purpose of determining the environmental condition of that parcel; and (3) the Minister responsible for the Unclaimed Personal Property and Vested Property Act, with respect to a parcel of land to which that Act applies. Thus, it appears that the notion of “person responsible” is based on one’s relationship to the substance/release only, and not based on the cause of the release.

Part 5 Division 2 of the EPEA provides for the designation of contaminated sites. Under section 129 of the EPEA, the Director may designate a site as a contaminated site and issue an environmental protection order to a person responsible for the contaminated site. The Director must consider several factors before issuing an environmental protection order for a contaminated site, including: (1) due diligence of the owner or previous owner; (2) whether the presence of the substance at the site was caused solely by the act or omission of another person, other than an employee, agent or person with whom the owner or previous owner has or had a contractual relationship; and (3) the price the owner paid for the site and the relationship between that price and the fair market value of the site had the substance not been present.14

The “person responsible for the contaminated site” means: (1) a person responsible for the substance that is in, on or under the contaminated site; (2) any other person who the Director considers caused or contributed to the release of the substance into the environment; (3) the owner of the contaminated site; (4) any previous owner of the contaminated site who was the owner at any time when the substance was in, on or under the contaminated site; (5) a successor, assignee, executor, administrator, receiver, receiver‑manager or trustee of a person referred to in any of subclauses (2) to (4); and (6) a person who acts as the principal or agent of a person referred to in any of subclauses (2) to (5). As was the case with Division 1, the definition of “person responsible for the contaminated site” again excludes municipalities and investigators. In this case, the test is based on the relationship to the substance/release and the property.

In practice, Division 2 is rarely used. Designation will only occur as a last resort when there are no other appropriate tools. There have only been five instances of designation of a contaminated site since 1993 and no environmental protection order appears to have been issued under Division 2. Division 2 offers options otherwise unavailable, including the allocation of responsibility to present and past site owners who may have contractually assumed liability for the pollution, remedial actions plans and agreements with the Director, and the apportionment of costs of remedial work among responsible parties. The Minister may also pay compensation to any person who suffers loss or damage as a direct result of the application of Part 5 Division 2.15

Environmental contamination may affect the valuation of expropriated property. Under the Expropriation Act,16compensation for expropriation is based on the market value of the expropriated land, which is in turn “the amount realized if sold in the open market by a willing seller to a willing buyer”,17 and provable damages. The determination of market value accounts for everything that is present in the site, except for the legislated exclusions found in section 45 of the Expropriation Act.

Contamination introduces issues in valuing expropriated property, given the uncertainty in liability exposure, scope, duration, risk and stigma. Below are some case law on the interaction between the expropriation of contaminated lands and the “polluter pays” principle.

In Toronto (City) v Bernardo,18 the respondent Bernardo was the registered owner of a property and permitted the corporate respondent’s scrap metal business on property rent-free by oral licence to occupy. The City of Toronto served and published notice to expropriate property. The City conducted environmental testing on property which showed contamination, and was advised that clean-up costs for property could be in range of $250,000 to $750,000. The appraised value of the property was $242,500 before taking into consideration site remediation or clean-up costs. Given the estimated cost of remediation which exceeded value of land, the City’s offer of compensation to the respondents was $1. The respondents did not request compensation hearing but refused to surrender possession. The City brought motion for order to take possession. The Ontario Supreme Court granted the City’s motion as the respondents had the opportunity to contest the City’s offer of compensation in proceedings before the Ontario Municipal Board and chose not to take any action to assert claims for compensation.

In Thompson v Alberta (Minister of Environment),19 the claimant had purchased land for the sum of $1 million. At the time of purchase, the land was not part of any property acquired by the Crown for a proposed transportation corridor. The Crown reviewed roadway plan within months of claimant’s purchase and determined that land was a necessary part of the corridor. The Crown expropriated land for $1,025,000. The claimant brought action for increased compensation. The action was allowed in part. The claimant was granted $1,120,000. The Crown’s valuation discounted the value of the property because of the unknown cost of filling or remediating a wetland (which is 50% of the property) for future residential development, which posed an economic challenge for a prospective purchaser. The Court found that the cost of remediation calculated by the Crown was based on premature assumption that land was to be developed in isolation with no possible cost sharing by adjacent developers. The Court, however, recognized that a discount must be applied for market value because of this possibility of remediation.

In Ville de Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu c Cour du Québec,20 the subject property included a grocery store, snack-bar and a retail marina fuel distribution outlet for vessels navigating on Chambly canal, and a gas station for road vehicles. The issue before the Court was whether the costs of decontamination should be deducted from the compensation awarded for expropriation, based on the duty to remediate. It was argued that evidence demonstrated that there was a spill onto the neighbouring property, therefore the question as to cessation of activities no longer applied, and the mandatory provisions of the EQA regarding decontamination was triggered. The Tribunal Administratif du Québec (the “TAQ”) ruled that the total remediation cost of $450,000 be paid by the owner of the property, 9092-9340 Québec Inc. (“9092”) and should be deducted from its expropriation indemnity award. The value of the expropriated property, after deduction of the decontamination costs, was established as being $31,000.

Lock 9, the southern terminus of the Chambly Canal, is located in the town of St.-Jean-Sur-Richelieu.

The Court of Quebec allowed the appeal, holding that the finding of the TAQ was unreasonable and profoundly unfair. Were it not for the expropriation, 9092 could have ceased its activity at its own time, negotiated with a willing purchaser and, based upon the projects of the purchaser, negotiated the decontamination works remaining according to the circumstances. The City deprived 9092 of its right to complete the decontamination work at the time that it deemed the most suitable to its interests and subject to conditions that would have been more favourable. By forcing 9092 to assume the costs of decontamination estimated by the City engineer, the TAQ deprived the owner of the quasi-totality of the value of the expropriated property. The City brought a judicial review application which was subsequently dismissed. The Court found that the systemic analysis undertaken by the Court of Quebec highlights the significant defects and the fragility of the TAQ ruling to assign full liability to 9092 for the estimated costs of decontamination of the property.

Case law suggests that the law is not blind to the causation of the contamination when evaluating the market value of an expropriated property that has been contaminated. Liability for the remediation of contaminated land in Alberta clearly rests with “person responsible for the substance” and, in the rare case of designated contaminated sites, “person responsible for the contaminated site.” Liability for contamination does not run with the land in Alberta.

This leads to the question of what is the intent of the law in respect of a faultless landowner for the environmental depreciation of land in the expropriation context. The principles of statutory interpretation apply to deem the legislature as knowing all the law and the necessary statutory language to give effect to its intention. The EPEA and the Expropriation Act are meant to be interpreted harmoniously as a scheme in cases of expropriation involving contamination. The Expropriation Act is a remedial statute. Accordingly, it must be given a broad and liberal interpretation consistent with its purpose.

Currently, the right of a faultless landowner to recover from a “person responsible” remediation costs in civil claims (whether under the common law or the EPEA) is a chose in action. This chose in action does not appear to be considered in the calculation of market value in expropriation. In the new era of third-party litigation funding, a chose in action for remediation costs is a valuable element that may offset some or all of the discounts associated with contaminated land, even in an open market.

Footnotes

1 Species at Risk Act, SC 2002, c 29 [SARA].

2 SARA, s 80(1).

3 SARA, s 80(4)(c)(ii).

4 SARA, s 64(1).

5 SARA, s 64(2).

6 Wildlife Act, RSA 2000, c W-10.

7 The City of Medicine Hat et al v Canada (AG) et al, Federal Court of Canada File No. T-12-14. See also Federal Court of Canada, Proceeding Queries, Recorded Entries for T-12-14, online: click here.

8 Groupe Maison Candiac Inc v Canada (AG), 2018 FC 643.

9 Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, RSA 2000, c E-12 [EPEA].

10 EPEA, ss 217, 219, 227-228.

11 EPEA, s 112.

12 EPEA, ss 113-114.

13 EPEA, s 1(tt).

14 EPEA, s 129(2).

15 EPEA, s 131.

16 Expropriation Act, RSA 2000, c E-13.

17 Expropriation Act, ss 41-42.

18 Toronto (City) v Bernardo, 2004 CanLII 5760 (ONSC).

19 Thompson v Alberta (Minister of Environment), 2006 ABQB 510.

20 Ville de Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu c Cour du Québec, 2017 QCCS 4832.


The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

This article was first published on the BLG website. It is re-published with the permission of the author.

About the Author

Chidinma Thompson is a partner in Commercial Litigation Group at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP‘s Calgary office. She practices commercial litigation and arbitration, project approvals, environmental defence and compliance advisory. Her practice covers a broad range of sectors including oil and gas, electricity, renewable energy, municipal and land development. She has experience in regulatory hearings before the Alberta Energy Regulator and its predecessors, Alberta Utilities Commission, and the Calgary Subdivision and Development Appeal Board. She has appeared before the Alberta Provincial Court, Court of Queen’s Bench and the Court of Appeal.

Environmental Convictions & Contaminated Property: Ontario Summary for 2018

The Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Parks (MOECP) publishes publishes an annual report on environmental penalties issued in the previous calendar year for certain land or water violations for companies subject to the Municipal Industrial Strategy for Abatement (MISA) Regulations.  Companies subject to the MISA Regulations belong to one of the nine industrial sectors found in the Effluent Monitoring and Effluent Limits (EMEL) regulations.  The summary report for 2017 was published in the Spring of 2018.

Under the MISA Regulations, environmental penalties can range from $1,000 per day for less serious violations such as failure to submit a quarterly report under the MISA Regulations  to $100,000 per day for the most serious violations, including a spill with a significant impact.

For serious offences under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act and Ontario Water Resources Act, the maximum and minimum corporate fines for each day on which the offence occurs is as follows:

  1. not less than $25,000 and not more than $6,000,000 on a first conviction;
  2. not less than $50,000 and not more than $10,000,000 on a second conviction; and
  3. not less than $100,000 and not more than $10,000,000 on each subsequent conviction.

In the past, Ontario Environment Ministry would publish a more comprehensive environmental enforcement report that covered all penalties, fines and convictions.

In a 2011 blog, Diane Saxe, Ontario’s former Environmental Commissioner and former partner at Siskinds Law Firm, wrote that  a typical year, the Ontario Environment launches about 150 to 175 prosecutions. About 75% of them are resolved by guilty pleas; about 5% are acquitted at trial; about 10% are convicted of something at trial; about 10% are withdrawn.

As the end of the calendar year approaches, the staff at Hazmat Management Magazine thought it would be useful to review some of the more significant environmental convictions related to contaminated property.  That summary can be found below.

Environmental Consultant and an Individual fined $50,000 for False RSC Incidents

In the Spring, an Ontario-based consulting firm that provides environmental, geotechnical, and hydrogeological consulting services was convicted when an employee falsified  Environment Ministry Letters of Acknowledgement to Records of Site Conditions (RSCs) for two properties.

An RSC is a statement on the environmental condition of a property and is typically a requirement by a municipality if a contaminated property is remediated and a redevelopment is proposed that involves a more sensitive land use (i.e., from industrial to residential).  The environmental consultant that performed the environmental site investigation at the site (a Phase I ESA and possibly a Phase II ESA) submits an RSC to the Environment Ministry.  The Environment Ministry issues an acknowledgement of the RSC.

The offences occurred in the Spring of 2014 and winter of 2015.  When the Consulting firm realized one of its employees had issued falsified documents related to the RSCs it immediately informed the affected owners of the related properties.  In the Fall of 2015, an owner/developer of another construction project in the Greater Toronto Area notified the ministry of concerns relating to their RSC submissions of which the consulting firm in question was involved.  At that time, the Environment Ministry commenced an audit and investigations.

The consulting firm was found guilty of one violation under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA), was fined $35,000 plus a Victim Fine Surcharge (VFS) of $8,750, and was given 30 days to pay. On the same date, former employee was found guilty of two violations under the EPA, was fined $15,000 plus a VFS of $3,750, and was given 18 months to pay.

Muskoka Cottage Owner fined $30,000 for Discharging Fuel Oil into Water Well

In the winter, a Muskoka homeowner was convicted for discharging fuel and other petroleum hydrocarbon into a water well which can impair the quality of the water. He was fined $30,000 plus a victim surcharge with 6 months to pay .

The conviction stems from an incident that occurred in the spring of 2016.  On May 16, 2016, the homeowner of a cottage on Lake of Bays poured heating fuel oil down a neighbor’s well, damaging the quality of the water in the well. The incident was referred to the Environment Ministry’s investigations and Enforcement branch, resulted in charges and one conviction through a guilty plea.

Residential Property Owner fined $3,000 for Falsely Claiming Property was Remediated

In the winter, a homeowner in Guelph was convicted of failing to apply with two provincial officers orders issued under the environmental protection act (EPA) . The homeowner was fined $3,000 plus a victim fine surcharge of $750 and was given 15 days to pay the fine .

The violation occurred in 2013 when the homeowner bought a residential property in Guelph , which earlier had been contaminated with oil fuel from a historic spill at the property . In the December of 2014, the homeowner put the residence up for sale.  The Environment Ministry subsequently received a complaint that the house was up for sale but had not been adequately remediated.

During the course of its investigations, the Environment Ministry found the previous owner had claimed the property had been remediated but discovered that no remediation had been conducted.  An Order was issued by the Environment Ministry for all documentation related to any remediation at the property to be submitted.  Despite providing an extension on a submission date, the not information was provided to the Environment Ministry.

The incident was referred to the ministry’s Investigations and Enforcement Branch, resulting in charges and the conviction against the property owner.

Fine of $30,000 for Discharging Contaminants and Illegal Operation of Waste Disposal Site

In the winter, a business located in the County of Essex and its owner was convicted of three offences under the Environmental Protection Act( EPA) and was also fined $30,000 for discharging dust that cause and was likely to cause an adverse effect, and being deposited at a property that is not allowed nor an approved waste disposal site.

A business owner in Essex County accepted 189 truckloads of  construction waste in 2014 despite the fact that property was not approved as a waste disposal site.

In 2015, the business owner was operating a farm tractor to turn soil at the site. The operation resulted in the release of plumes of dust which adversely affected nearby residents and their properties . The incident was referred to the Environment Ministry’s Investigations Branch.

 

Court Upholds Decision That The Ministry May Order Current And Former Owners, And Tenants To Delineate Contamination That Has Migrated Off-Site

Article by Stanley D. Berger and Albert M. Engel

Fogler, Rubinoff LLP

On September 4, 2018, Ontario’s Divisional Court released its decision in Hamilton Beach Brands Canada, Inc. v. Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, 2018 ONSC 5010, dismissing an appeal of a September 1, 2017 decision of Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal (Hamilton Beach Brands Canada Inc. v. Ontario (Environment and Climate Change), 2017 CanLII 57415 (ON ERT)) in which the Tribunal upheld the Ministry’s jurisdiction to order current and former owners and tenants of a contaminated property to delineate contamination that has migrated to off-site properties. The Tribunal’s decision also found that the Ministry had jurisdiction to make an order regarding existing, ongoing and future adverse effects, that the adverse effects do not have to be related to the potential off-site migration of a contaminant, nor must the contaminant be on an orderee’s property at the time the order is made and that the order may require work on-site and off-site to address an adverse effect.

In upholding the Tribunal’s decision, the Divisional Court found that there is no geographical constraint limiting orders to the source property of the contamination and quoted the Tribunal’s observation that “contamination and adverse effects are not constrained by the boundaries of a property, either in initial discharge or because of migration”. The Divisional Court also found that the Tribunal’s interpretation of the Ministry’s order-making jurisdiction is consistent with the Brownfield regime since protection from orders is extinguished under the regime when contaminants migrate from a property that was subject to that regime.

The former appliance manufacturing plant on McFarland Drive that is the property in question in the  Hamilton Beach Brands Canada, Inc. v. Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, 2018 ONSC 5010 (Phtoto Credit: Jason Parks/Picton Gazette)

The order provisions of s.18(2) of the Environmental Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c.E.19 were at issue in this case. This is the first Divisional Court decision interpreting the geographic extent of the powers set out in s.18(2). The decision confirms that the powers are expansive and should be considered by any current, former or prospective owner or tenant of a contaminated property. We will continue to monitor this case should it be appealed further.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

________________________

About the Authors

Mr. Berger has practiced regulatory law for 37 years. He represents nuclear operators and suppliers, waste management operators, renewable energy operators, receivers-in-bankruptcy, municipalities and First Nations. He was an Assistant Crown Attorney in Toronto for 8 years, Senior counsel and Deputy Director for Legal Services/Prosecutions at the Ministry of the Environment for 9 years and Assistant General Counsel at Ontario Power Generation Inc for 14 years.
He is the author of a quarterly loose-leaf service published by Thomson Reuters entitled the Prosecution and Defence of Environmental Offences and the editor of an annual review of environmental law.
Mr. Berger was the President of the International Nuclear Law Association (2008-2009) and the founder, and President of the Canadian Nuclear Law Organization.

Mr. Engel practice all aspects of Environmental and Renewable Energy Law. He advises clients in the development and operation of renewable energy projects, regulatory compliance and civil causes of action.He represent clients before Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal and all levels of court. He assist clients with defences to environmental and other regulatory prosecutions, appeals of environmental orders and civil litigation involving environmental issues including contaminated lands.

Mr. Engel has a Masters degree in Environmental Studies and is Certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as a Specialist in Environmental Law.

U.S. Eleventh Circuit Highlights Importance of Safety Training in Affirming Willful Violation of OSHA Standard

Author: H. Bernard Tisdale, Ogletree Deakins, Charlotte, North Carolina)

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently had the opportunity to remind employers not to ignore training employees on safety. Martin Mechanical Contractors, Inc. v. Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor, No. 17-12643 (March 27, 2018).

In late 2015, a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor was installing an HVAC system on the flat roof of a warehouse in Georgia. The installation was to take place adjacent to several unguarded skylights covered only with plastic sheeting. While the onsite foreman had fall protection equipment in his truck, the employees did not wear any fall protection equipment while on the roof. These circumstances ended in tragically: one of the workers fell through a skylight and died as a result of his injuries. This is why it’s absolutely paramount to ensure you contract the right people. I suggest you give www.iceblast.com.au a call to complete the work.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the employer for a willful violation of 29 C.F.R. § 1926.501(b)(4)(i) for failing to protect its employees from falls. The administrative law judge concluded the supervisor’s actions supported a willful classification in that he demonstrated a “reckless disregard for the safety of his crew.” The employer appealed.

To support a willful classification, OSHA must show either (1) the employer knew of the standard and consciously disregarded it or (2) it exhibited such reckless disregard for the employees’ safety that the employer would not have cared that the conduct violated the standard. Evidently, the supervisor claimed ignorance of the law, and the court analyzed whether the willful classification could be supported under the second standard.

Air conditioner units (HVAC) on a roof of industrial building

The court of appeals was unimpressed by the employer’s arguments. The court noted the supervisor was well aware of the danger posed by the unguarded skylights in that he warned his employees to be careful around them. The supervisor also testified it was his practice not to use fall protection equipment on flat roofs. The supervisor neither instructed anyone to wear fall protection equipment nor provided his employees with the fall protection equipment he had in his truck. Thus, the Court concluded, while the supervisor did not know of the standard’s requirements, he exhibited such reckless disregard for employee safety that he would not have cared that the conduct violated the standard.

This is where all employers may want to take heed. The court went on to observe that the supervisor’s “unfamiliarity serves, if anything, only to underscore the inadequacy of [the employer’s] training program. They really should have better knowledge of OH&S if they are running a business where safety is paramount. To hold that such inadequacy—and the resulting unfamiliarity—precludes classification of a violation as willful would perversely allow [the employer] to use its ineffective training as a defense against OSHA’s most serious charge.” The court upheld the willful classification.

Needless to say, a willful citation can have far-reaching ramifications for an employer—from tort liability and criminal penalties for the injury or death to inability to secure future work. While training may seem trivial and time consuming, doing it just might prevent a willful citation and possibly save a life.

This article was originally published on the Ogletree Deakins website.

______________

About the Author

Mr. Tisdale has wide experience in general civil and employment litigation. This experience ranges from advising clients on preventive measures to avoid formal charges and lawsuits, and representing clients before the United States Court of Appeals, to handling individual employment discrimination cases before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the federal courts as well as handling wrongful discharge and other employment-related litigation in state and federal courts. He regularly represents employers on safety and health matters including advising and defending clients on OSHA compliance issues involving Federal OSHA and state plan states. He regularly assists clients with contract disputes and non-compete and trade secrets advice and litigation. His experience also includes counseling clients on wage and hour compliance under the Fair Labor Standards Act and performing compliance audits under the FLSA, drafting and reviewing employment contracts and employment

Key Developments in Environmental Law in Canada from 2017

A book on the developments in environmental law in Canada during 2017 was recently published by Thomson Reuters.  Edited by Stanley D. Berger of Fogler Rubinoff LLP, the book includes a number of interesting chapters related to contaminated sites and the issues raised in the Midwest Properties Ltd. v. Thordarson (“Midwest”) court case.  The Midwest case is part of a possible trend in Canada toward awarding damages based on restoration costs rather than diminution in value.  If nothing, else the Midwest Case has introduced uncertainty to the law of damages in contaminated sites cases.

In the chapter written by Natalie Mullins, a litigation partner in the Advocacy and Environmental groups in the Toronto office of Gowling WLG, on the evolution and current state of law on damages in contaminated sites, she states that despite being explicit about awarding compensatory damages only under section 99 of the Alberta Environmental Protection Act (“EPA”) and not at common law, the Alberta Court of Appeal may have implied that restoration costs are the default measure of damages in contaminated sites cases.  She also explores some other critical issues that have arisen post-Midwest, such as:

  • Whether diminution in value is still relevant to the measure of damages;
  • What it means to “restore” a real property;
  • How the court can take a proactive role to ensure that awards made to benefit the environment actually meet that objective; and
  • How defence counsel might prevent similar awards in the future, and how plaintiff’s counsel might use the case to obtain significant damages for their clients.

An interesting point raised by Ms. Mullins in her contaminated sites chapter is that in recent court cases, highlighted with Midwest, court decisions may be paving the way for plaintiffs to recover very significant damage awards for the contaminated of their sites that grossly exceed their actual loss and, in certain circumstances, may be completely unwarranted.

Ms. Mullins questions if the Midwest decision has created the potential for litigants to profit off purchasing contaminated sites and for defendants to face double jeopardy following judgment at trial.

The book is available at online for $144 (Cdn.).