Citizens Guide to Environmental Investigation and Private Prosecution


Please note: Some of the definitions for legal terms in this glossary were adapted from: Joseph Nolan and Jacqueline Nolan-Haley, Black’s Law Dictionary, Abridged, 6th ed. (St. Paul: West Publishing Co., 1991).


ABS pipe: Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene pipe; a plastic pipe used for water distribution, drain, waste, vent and sewage.

adjourn: to postpone a hearing

AECB: Atomic Energy Control Board, a federal agency under the Ministry of Natural Resources

AECL: Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

affidavit: a written statement made before a notary public or other person authorized to administer oaths

AG: attorney general

allege: to suggest that something happened or that a person committed a crime

amend: to change a document such as an information, usually to remove a defect

AOX: adsorbable organic halides


BDL: below detection limit

BOD: biological oxygen demand; a measure of the amount of oxygen consumed by aerobic bacteria as it decomposes organic matter in a sample; high BOD levels indicate that aerobic bacteria are consuming much of the available dissolved oxygen, robbing other aquatic organisms of the oxygen they need in order to live

Bq: becquerel; a unit of measurement of radioactivity; one atomic event per second

BTEX: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene


carcinogen: a substance that can cause cancer

CEPA: Canadian Environmental Protection Act

charge: a formal accusation that a person or organization has committed a crime

Ci: Curie; a unit of measurement of radioactivity; one Curie equals 3.7 x 1010 nuclear transformations per second, which is the activity of 1 gram of radium

COD: chemical oxygen demand

coliforms: see fecal coliforms

counsel: lawyer

cross-examination: questioning of a witness by the lawyer representing the opposing side in a court case

Crown: on behalf of her Majesty the Queen; refers to both federal and provincial governments


defence: evidence offered by the accused to defeat a criminal charge; a reason in fact or law as to why a party initiating the proceeding (in criminal cases, the AG or the informant) should not be granted the remedy it is seeking; a legally recognized basis for avoiding liability; may include a flat denial of the other party’s allegations

defendant: the person or entity sued or accused

dioxin: a highly toxic contaminant; sometimes used in chemical warfare, specifically Agent Orange

disclosure: obligation by the prosecution to reveal and give to the defence any information in its possession or control that is relevant, regardless of whether it damages or aids its case

DO: dissolved oxygen; low levels can indicate pollution

DOC: dissolved organic carbon

due diligence: a defence that maintains the defendant has taken all reasonable steps to prevent committing an offence


EBR: Environmental Bill of Rights

E. coli: Escherichia coli; a bacterium used as an indicator of the presence of human sewage or animal manure in fresh water

Enterococcus: a bacterium used as an indicator of the presence of sewage or animal manure in salt water

eutrophication: the alteration of a lake through the biological enrichment of the water; sewage and agricultural and industrial wastes can act as plant nutrients, over- stimulating algae growth, causing unsightly scum and unpleasant odours, and robbing the water of dissolved oxygen vital to other aquatic life

examination-in-chief: questioning of a witness by the lawyer who asked that witness to appear


fecal coliforms: bacteria used as an indicator of the presence of human sewage or animal manure in fresh water

FOI: Freedom of Information


Geiger counter: an instrument for the detection and measurement of ionizing radiation

GPS: Geographic Positioning System; a satellite-based system for determining one’s exact location


informant: the person who lays the information (the charge)

information: a standard court document outlining charges laid against the accused


JP: justice of the peace


LC50: median lethal concentration

leachate: a solution resulting from leaching; e.g., soluble pollutants from a landfill by downward percolating groundwater

LOD: limit of detection

LTD: less than detection limit


microgram: a unit measure of weight represented by the symbol µg that is equivalent to one millionth of a gram

MOE: Ministry of the Environment

mrem: millirem; one thousandth of a rem; 0.001 rem

Mrem: megarem; one thousand rems; 1000 rems

MW: molecular weight


nitrates: nitrogen compounds, often the limiting nutrients in aquatic systems, that can be toxic to aquatic and human life under certain conditions; the addition of nitrates can lead to increased aquatic plant growth; high levels can indicate sewage, animal manure, fertilizer, and other types of contamination


PAHs: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

pathogen: any disease-producing agent, especially a virus, bacterium, or other microorganism

PCBs: polychlorinated byphenyls

PCDD: polychlorinated dibenzodioxin

PCDF: polychlorinated dibenzofuran

PERC: tetrachloroethylene

pH: an indicator of acidity on a logarithmic scale of 0 to 14; the pH of natural, unpolluted water is generally between 6 and 9; lower or higher pH can indicate pollution and can be harmful to aquatic life

phenols: benzene-derived products

phosphates: phosphorus compounds readily available as plant nutrients; the addition of phosphates can lead to increased aquatic plant growth; high levels can indicate sewage, animal manure, fertilizer, and other types of contamination

plaintiff: a person who brings a suit into a court of law; complainant

PPB: parts per billion

PPM: parts per million

primary sewage treatment: a system of treating wastewater using screens, gravity, and skimming to remove insoluble particles; this treatment does not reduce dangerous water-soluble organic and inorganic substances

pro bono: done or donated without charge; free

prosecutor: the attorney general, or where the AG does not intervene, the person who institutes the proceedings (the informant) in a court case; includes counsel or an agent acting on behalf of either of these parties (see Criminal Code, Sections 2 and 785)


quash: to annul, make void; e.g., if an information is quashed, it has no force or effect, and the proceeding against that defendant ceases


rad: radiation absorbed dose; a measurement unit of the energy absorbed in material when exposed to radiation; one rad corresponds to the absorption of 0.01 joule per kilogram (or 100 ergs per gram) of absorbing material

RAP: Remedial Action Plan

rem: roetgen equivalent man; a measurement unit of the energy absorbed in tissue when exposed to radiation; one rem equals one rad multiplied by a quality factor (Q) to convert rads into a common scale of biological damage; Q for external radiation is usually equal to 1, so rad and rem can be used interchangeably, but varies for internal radiation

RoC: Registrar of Companies


stay (judicial): a suspension of a case or a proceeding within a case; an injunction in which the court freezes a case at a particular point; a stay can stop a prosecution completely or just one phase of the prosecution, such as an execution of a judgement; a stay does not reverse, annul, undo, or suspend what has already been done, or what is not specifically stayed

summons: a written order notifying an individual that he has been charged with an offence; a summons directs the person to appear in court to answer the charge

suspended solids: particles of substances such as clay, silt, plankton, industrial wastes or sewage within a water body; may indicate soil erosion, urban runoff, or pollution


tailing: waste or refuse left in the process of mining

TCDD: tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin

TCDF: tetrachlorodibenzofuran

TCE: trichloroethylene

TEQ: total toxic equivalent

TSS: total suspended solids


universal transverse mercator grid: a map projection and plane coordinate system based on 60 north-south trending zones, each 16 degrees of longitude wide, that circle the globe


VOC: volatile organic compounds

VSS: volatile suspended solids

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