Woman files charges against government by Michael Friscolanti
In what is believed to be the first time in Canada that a private citizen has laid criminal charges against a government, an Ottawa judge will announce this morning whether Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment allowed dangerous pollutants to flow from an abandoned mine into the rivers and lakes of a village.
In November, 1997, exploiting rarely used powers that allow Ontarians to bring criminal charges against the government, the Environmental Bureau of Investigation accused the ministry of idly watching as hazardous metals leaked into the Moira River and Young’s Creek in Deloro, northeast of Belleville, Ont., and once described by the ministry as “Ontario’s most contaminated land.”
The EBI alleges that between November, 1995, and November, 1997, the government violated its own environmental protection laws and the Fisheries Act, which prohibit destruction of drinking water supplies and fish habitats.
The maximum penalty for breaking the Fisheries Act is a $500,000 fine for each day the violation occurred.
“If we win, it would be a clear signal to the public that the people in charge of enforcing environmental laws in this province are in fact polluters,” said Janet Fletcher, EBI’s co-founder and the woman who laid the charges.
Government lawyers would not comment on the case yesterday.
EBI, an offshoot of environmental research group Energy Probe, has convicted a handful of municipalities, but this is the first time it has laid charges against a province.
In 1998, the City of Kingston was found guilty of failing to prevent toxic leaks from a municipal landfill, and last September, the City of Hamilton was forced to pay $450,000 after contaminates from a public works yard were allowed to seep into a local creek.
The Deloro case is also unique because the Ontario Attorney-General’s office helped prosecute the charges, pitting one government entity against another.
Deloro, a village of 170, is in the middle of what was once a site of intense smelting and industrial refining operations stretching back to the 1860s.
EBI scientists, who conducted numerous experiments in the area prior to the charges, found arsenic levels in the river to be hovering around 160,000 parts per million. Water is considered toxic if levels reach 2.5 parts per million.