Another Ontario court has waived the unreasonably high
minimum environmental fines for relatively minor offences that
the Environmental Protection Act sometimes now imposes.
In R. v. Union Gas Ltd., 2014 CarswellOnt 18380, a backhoe
excavating a water and sewer line at a private residence
inadvertently dropped a rock, which struck an exposed gas line and
caused a leak. The general contractor quickly contacted Union Gas,
which shut off the gas and contacted police and fire departments.
Five residences were evacuated.
None of the general contractor, the excavating company, or Union
Gas reported the incident to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate
Change's Spills Action Centre. (If notified, the MOECC
would not have had any additional expertise to contribute.) All
three companies pled guilty to failing to report the gas leak
forthwith to the MOECC as a "spill" under s. 92 of the
The MOECC sought the minimum environmental fines of $50,000
for Union Gas, which had a prior conviction, and $25,000
for each of the contractor and the excavating
Section 59(2) of the Provincial Offences Act allows judges to
waive minimum fines in "exceptional circumstances". The
contracting and excavating companies argued that they were both
small, family-run businesses and that the minimum fines would cause
undue hardship, that they had made no attempts to evade
responsibility and were simply unaware that they were expected to
report a gas leak to the Ministry of Environment and Climate
Change as a "spill" (and had since modified
their procedures to do so). Union Gas argued that they were not
present on site and did not cause the leak, and that they had acted
promptly to alert the police and fire department (and had also
since modified their procedures to treat gas leaks as
The court agreed, and fixed the fines at $5000 each for the
contracting and excavating companies, and $7,500 for Union Gas,
plus the usual 25% Victim Fine Surcharge.
I'm glad to see the courts making more use of s. 59(2) to
offset the unreasonable harshness that the minimum environmental
fine regime can create.
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