Canada’s stated intention to crack down on environmental offenders has once again been felt by industry stakeholders, with the recent issuance of a CA$15 million fine stemming from violations under the federal Fisheries Act and the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations (now the Metal and Diamond Mining Effluent Regulations).
As previously discussed by Dentons here, the Government of Canada released A Discussion Paper Regarding the Environmental Fines and Sentencing Regime: 10 Years Later, in 2021, which provided a detailed analysis of the rise of environmental fines under ten pieces of federal environmental legislation. This discussion paper pre-dated the largest fine in Canadian environmental law – the CA$60 million penalty imposed under the Fisheries Act on Teck Coal in March 2021, for the unlawful depositing of 2.2 billion cubic metres of coal mine waste rock, a deleterious substance, into a local river.
Just over one year later, on June 10, 2022, two Canadian corporations were fined a total of CA$15 million by the Court of Québec after a conviction on 93 charges and 5 charges, respectively, under the Fisheries Act and the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations.
The charges, discussed in the decision of the Court, stemmed from incidents at a mining complex in dating back from 2011 to 2013. Upon investigation of a dike rupture at the mining complex, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) uncovered 33 unauthorized deposits of deleterious substances into water contrary to subsection 36(3) of the Fisheries Act. This provision prohibits the deposit of a deleterious substance of any type into water frequented by fish. The waters in question flowed into what is considered to be one of the most important rivers for Atlantic salmon in North America.
The ECCC investigation also revealed that one of the corporations had not complied with the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations, as it had not been declaring the results of its effluent monitoring tests. It was also found that the corporation had concealed from the authorities a number of unauthorized deposits of deleterious substances into water containing fish, causing the ECCC to have an inaccurate view of the entire situation. This was a violation of subsection 63(1) of the Fisheries Act, which provides that no person shall make a false or misleading statement, whether orally or in writing, to an authority who is carrying out duties or functions under the Act. The corporation was also found guilty of failing to submit quarterly effluent monitoring reports within the prescribed timeframe, a violation of subsections 21(1) of the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations.
Lastly, the two corporations were also found guilty of failing to conduct proper testing during these deposits of deleterious substances, violating paragraph 14(1)(b) and subsection 17(1) of the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations.
As a result of these convictions, both corporations will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry, a registry which contains information on firms that have been convicted for violations of certain federal environmental laws. The entire CA$15 million in fines will be paid to the Government of Canada Environmental Damages Fund and will go towards achieving restoration of damage to the natural environment and wildlife conservation in Canada.
This multi-million dollar fine is just the latest example in a growing line of cases that continue to emphasize Canada’s focus and increasing emphasis on enforcing environmental laws, and ensuring compliance with these laws by both corporations and individuals alike. A main takeaway from this decision is that environmental violations, if not caught and accurately reported at an early stage, can lead to hefty cumulative fines.
Dentons Canada will continue to track developments in environmental law and provide updates. Stay up-to-date with all insights and guidance from our environmental team. If you have any questions about this insight, please reach out to Alex MacWilliam, Dina Awad, or Kate Wiltse.