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Ontario’s proposal to change environmental infraction fines raises red flags with critics

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Ontario is looking for feedback on a new proposal that would see a major change in how monetary penalties are administered for violations of four key pieces of environmental legislation. But some critics are already claiming the changes would actually make it cheaper for companies to pollute.

While structured daily fines are currently in place, the proposal by Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks would see a move to a system with maximum fines per contravention. This would affect future fines related to the Ontario Water Resources Act, which currently has a daily fine potential of $100,000 per day. The current proposal would change the fine process to max out at $200,000 per contravention. 

Toronto-based eco-advocacy organization Environmental Defence issued a plea that warns how the proposal in Schedule 9 of Bill 132, which claims to “hold polluters accountable,” may be “highly deceptive”. Writing for the organization’s blog, programs director Keith Brooks states that the proposed bill to “eliminate daily fines and cap total fines will make it easier and cheaper for industry in Ontario to illegally dump sewage in our water, use toxic pesticides and pollute the air.”

What complicates the matter for critics of the proposal, however, is that the same proposal appears to grant the ability for fines to be levied for violations of the Pesticides Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002, powers that do not currently exist, according to the ministry’s stated proposal.

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According to a statement by the ministry, “Environmental violations where administrative monetary penalties may be used under the new proposal include illegal sewage discharges into waterways, selling pesticides without a permit, failing to have a certified operator when operating a drinking water system, or violating terms of a permit to take water.”

When it comes to the Nutrient Management Act, 2002, the ministry’s proposal claims the legislation is currently “out of step with best practice.”

In terms of monetary amounts, the following changes are currently proposed:

  1. Ontario Water Resources Act – $200,000 per contravention (same as the Environmental Protection Act)
  2. Pesticides Act – $100,000 per contravention
  3. Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002 – $100,000 per contravention
  4. Nutrient Management Act, 2002 – $10,000 per contravention

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