Legal Alert: Environmental Contamination - SCC Says When In Doubt ... Report
October 17, 2013
By John MacPherson, QC, at McInnes Cooper
On October 17, 2013 the SCC decided a contractor breached Ontario’s environmental protection legislation by failing to report its discharge of contaminant into the natural environment to the Ministry of Environment. The SCC’s decision was based on the specific wording of the Ontario environmental protection legislation. However, it delivered two key messages about how courts – and organizations – should interpret and apply environmental legislation across Canada.
In Castonguay Blasting Ltd. v. Ontario (Environment), the contractor’s blasting operations had propelled rock debris into the air and damaged a home and a car. The contractor did not report the incident to the Ontario Ministry. The SCC decided the incident had an “adverse effect” as defined in the Ontario environmental protection legislation, requiring the contractor to report it to the Ministry.
Environmental protection legislation – including the specific definitions and reporting obligations – vary by Province and Territory. In its decision, the SCC delivered two key messages that both courts – and any organization – should interpret and apply all environmental legislation in all Canadian Provinces and Territories:
- Broad Interpretation. The SCC reconfirmed that environmental protection legislation is remedial in nature. Its objective is environmental protection so it is intended to reach “wide and deep”. This means that courts will interpret environmental legislation, including definitions and reporting obligations, generously and broadly – and thus so should any organization subject to it.
- When In Doubt: Report. The SCC’s advice to the contractor in the case is express – and broadly applicable: “when in doubt, report”.
The SCC’s decision is based on an Ontario incident and legislation – but relevant across Canada.
Click here to read the SCC’s decision in Castonguay Blasting Ltd. v. Ontario (Environment).
Please contact your McInnes Cooper lawyer or any member of our McInnes Cooper Environmental Law Team to discuss this topic or any other legal issue.
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