September 22/2000

Edie news service

Environmentalist wins private prosecution against Canadian municipality

Ontario resident, Lynda Lukasik, has succeeded in prosecuting the City of Hamilton for violating the Federal Fisheries Act.

The municipality was convicted at the Ontario Court (Provincial Division), on Tuesday 19 September, and was also found guilty of contravening Ontario’s Water Resources Act as a result of a separate charge brought by the Investigation and Enforcement Branch (IEB) of Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment (MOE), relating to the same contaminated site. Lukasik was represented by the Sierra Legal Defence Fund (SLDF), with investigative assistance from the Environmental Bureau of Investigation (EBI).

During June, July and August, 1999, on six separate days, PCB and ammonia contaminated leachate was discharged into Red Hill Creek from the City’s Rennie Street public works yard. The discharges were acutely toxic to aquatic life, killing all the animals in lab tests. The Creek flows into the already heavily polluted Hamilton Harbour, which has been identified as an ‘Area of Concern’ under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between Canada and the US.

Pleading guilty to both charges, the City was fined CA$300,000 (£144,000) for the Fisheries Act charge, and CA$150,000 (£72,000) for the Water Resources Act charge. The sum total of their fine being the largest ever fine against a Canadian municipality for an environmental crime, according to the SLDF. Fines are split under the Fisheries Act, resulting, in this case, in $150,000 being awarded to Lukasik.

“This case should encourage environmentalists across Canada to protect our waters by sampling at contaminated sites and commencing private prosecutions under the Fisheries Act,” said Lukasik, who intends to use her share of the fine to set up a fund for environmental investigative and advocacy work.

Sampling of the site was carried out by Mark Mattson of EBI. “This prosecution is just the beginning of our commitment towards ensuring that environmental laws are enforced in the Hamilton region,” said Mattson. “We expect that our current and future investigations in the region will also result in clean-ups.”

The City of Hamilton has agreed to develop, implement and operate an environmental management plan to ensure that a similar incident does not happen again. The municipality has already installed leachate collectors at the site, and has submitted its proposal for long-term remedial measures, which is subject to review and approval by Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and the Federal Government.