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 March 05, 2009
Getting Tough with Polluters

 GLOBE-Net - A new Environmental Enforcement Bill was introduced in the House of Commons today by Environment Minister Jim Prentice. Its purpose is to provide environmental enforcement authorities with the powers they need to crack down on polluters, poachers and wildlife smugglers. Increased fines and new enforcement tools are among the main elements of the draft legislation.

A key provision of the new bill is that it raises maximum fines and introduces minimum fines for the first time.  Under the proposed bill, fines for individuals who commit serious offences would be between $5,000 and $1 million, while fines for corporations would be between $25,000 and $6 million. 

While many of Canada’s environmental statutes provide for maximum fines, the lack of minimum fines leaves courts with little guidance on appropriate fines. 

As a result, courts have generally imposed fines that are not high enough to act as strong deterrents or to express public denunciation of environmental infractions.  For example, despite maximum possible fines of $1 million per day under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, the courts have never imposed a fine under that Act greater than $100,000. Some offenders may simply consider low fines as the cost of doing business.

The bill also gives enforcement officers new powers to investigate cases and grants courts new sentencing authorities that ensure penalties reflect the seriousness of the pollution and wildlife offences.

"In the election campaign, our government committed to bolster the protection of our water, air and land through tougher environmental enforcement that holds polluters accountable.  Today we delivered," said Minister Prentice. "This bill, together with funding commitments of $43 million from Budgets 2007 and 2008 to hire more enforcement officers and to implement the new measures, will provide a comprehensive, modern and effective enforcement regime for Canada."

Through the Environmental Enforcement Bill, it is proposed that Parliament signal through new statutory provisions the level of fines appropriate for environmental offences and expand the authority to deal with environmental offenders by:

  • Specifying aggravating factors such as damage to a protected area or to a unique or vulnerable environment or species;
  • Providing fine ranges higher for corporate offenders than for individuals;
  • Doubling fine ranges for repeat offenders;
  • Authorizing the suspension and cancellation of offender licenses, permits or other authorizations upon conviction;
  • Requiring corporate offenders to report convictions to shareholders; and
  •  Mandating the reporting of corporate offences on a public registry.  

The bill also identifies a number of factors to be treated as aggravating during sentencing. If present in an offence, these factors would lead to the higher fines.

These aggravating factors could include:

  • Actual damage or risk of damage to the environment;
  • That the offence caused damage or risk of damage to any unique, rare, particularly important or vulnerable area or component of the environment;
  • That the damage caused was irreparable, extensive or persistent;
  • That the offender failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the offence despite having the financial means to do so; and
  • A history of non-compliance on the part of the offender.

The orders a court may impose with respect to an offender are expanded through the bill.  For example, the bill would authorize the courts to suspend or cancel permits or licenses issued to offenders, or prevent an offender from applying for a permit for a specified period of time. 

As well, the bill directs that fines imposed by the courts go to the Environmental Damages Fund which provides funding to local environmental improvement initiatives.   

The existing environmental laws to be improved by the omnibus Environment Enforcement Bill, some of which have not been updated in over two decades, are:

  • The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
  • The Canada Wildlife Act
  • The Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
  • The Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act
  • The Antarctic Environmental Protection Act
  • The International River Improvements Act
  • The Canada National Parks Act
  • The Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act
  • The Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park Act

The new legislation builds on the Budget 2007 commitment of $22 million for the hiring of 106 new officers, bringing the number of on-the-ground enforcement officers across the country to more than 320, and the Budget 2008 allocation of $21 million over two years to implement the stricter environmental enforcement measures.

Commenting on the draft legislation, Dr. John Wiebe, President and CEO of the GLOBE Foundation of Canada, noted "Clear and consistent regulatory regimes are an important driver for change with respect to the business of the environment. Corporations can live with tough fines and stringent regulatory requirements and can plan accordingly to ensure that they are always in compliance with the law."

In addition, enforcement officials will be able to use cutting-edge scientific technologies for the collection and analysis of samples.  Training in new threat areas that have not traditionally been enforced in the past will also be added. 

Related Document:

For further information, please visit Environment Canada’s Web site at:  http://www.ec.gc.ca/