Citizens Guide to Environmental Investigation and Private Prosecution


3.1 Local environmental groups 

Local environmental and public interest groups may already be involved in the case you are interested in and may have accumulated some information and documents that may help you. In addition, they may be able to provide you with media, government, or scientific contacts, which could save you time and money.

You should contact environmental groups such as the Waterkeeper Alliance, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Western Canada Wilderness Committee, World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth, or similar groups to see if they would like to become involved in the case. Local Native-Canadian organizations may also be interested in lending a hand. You may even find some allies in seemingly unlikely places: local sport fishing clubs, Ducks Unlimited, and other groups that may have vested interests in your case’s success. By obtaining the backing of a large group of citizens, such as a labour union, you can counter one of government regulators’ favourite arguments: “It is not in the general public interest to proceed with this matter.”

The Pollution Watch website, a collaborative project of the Canadian Environmental Law Association and Environmental Defence, is another information source that may be helpful to in acquiring knowledge about pollution and pollutants in your area. Visit the Pollution Watch website at

3.2 Experts

In an environmental investigation and any subsequent prosecution, you will need advice and support from experts such as biologists, hydrogeologists, and lawyers, but their fees can be very expensive.

However, with some creative networking you may be able to enlist the support of resource people on a volunteer basis, or at reduced rates. Local residents may be able to provide expertise as well as volunteer their help and local environmental groups may have access to experts who will volunteer their services or provide them at a lower rate. Furthermore, lawyers such as those working at the Canadian Environmental Law Association, Environmental Defence Canada, Ecojustice, and the West Coast Environmental Law Association offer their services to environmental groups.

3.3 Field trips

The best way to find pollution sources in your community is to familiarize yourself with your local environment through regular field trips. If you identify an ongoing problem such as poor road maintenance (e.g., ditches and culverts plugged with logging debris or collapsed culverts), document it and follow up with visits later on to see if the problem has been addressed or if it has become worse.

3.4 The Internet


A number of library catalogues are available on the Web. Checking the availability of books and resource materials online can save you a lot of time.


By searching the staff directories of universities’ web sites, you can find experts involved in contaminant research, environmental science, chemistry, ecotoxicology, and human health issues. Call or e-mail them; they may be willing to help or to point you to someone who can.

Environmental groups

Most (too many to list) environmental groups have a Web presence. Search for them under their names or acronyms, or consult directories compiled by provincial environmental networks.

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