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Small Fines; Big Consequences: The hidden costs of pleading guilty

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expert-testimonial

By Donna Shier and Serin Remedios

Individuals and corporations considering pleading guilty and paying a small fine instead of appealing a charge should be aware of the hidden costs of their decision. The consequences of second and subsequent environmental offence convictions can be much more onerous.

The following examples from July 2016 illustrate a trend toward smaller fines in exchange for guilty pleas:

Individual or corporationAct prosecuted underPenaltyTime to pay fine
IndividualOntario Water Resources Act, RSO 1990, c O.40 (“OWRA”)$1,750 plus a victim fine surcharge of $437.50 and $5 for court costs 13 months
IndividualOWRA$3,000 plus a victim fine surcharge of $750 26 months
CompanySafe Drinking Water Act, 2002, SO 2002, c 32 (“SDWA”)$5,500 plus a victim fine surcharge of $1,375 312 months
CompanyEnvironmental Protection Act, RSO 1990, c E.19 (“EPA”)$9,000 plus a victim fine surcharge of $2,250 490 days
Company and Company DirectorWaste Diversion Act, 2002, SO 2002, c 6 (“WDA”)• Company was fined
$25,000 plus a victim fine surcharge of $6,250
• Company director was fined $5,000 plus a victim fine surcharge of $1,250 5
2 years for both company and company director.
CompanyPesticides Act, RSO 1990, c P.11$3,000 plus a victim fine surcharge of $750 612 months
CompanyNutrient Management Act, 2002, SO 2002, c 4$4,000 plus a victim fine surcharge of $1,000 790 days

These small fines can carry big consequences. Subsequent convictions carry much harsher penalties such as increased fines, imprisonment, and mandatory minimum fines.

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Under most environmental statutes, the maximum fine increases significantly for subsequent convictions. For example, under the Ontario Water Resources Act (OWRA), a fine for an individual’s first conviction has a $50,000 maximum. The maximum fine jumps to $100,000 on subsequent conviction.8

Penalties for subsequent convictions can include imprisonment. The Pesticides Act, the OWRA, the Safe Drinking Water ACT (SDWA), and the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) allow courts to sentence second time offenders to imprisonment on subsequent conviction.

Mandatory minimum fines are available under the OWRA and the EPA for a second offence that is a “more serious offence.” For example, under the EPA, a corporation convicted of certain offences will face a fine not less than $50,000 on second and subsequent conviction.9

Individuals and corporations should also be aware that previous convictions do not have to be under the same statute to trigger these increased penalties. The Pesticides Act, the Nutrient Management Act, the OWRA, the SDWA, and the EPA all allow courts to look to convictions under different statutes when determining the number of previous convictions.10

These small penalties for environmental offences place persons facing environmental prosecution in a very difficult situation. The fines are so small that those charged must  be very reluctant to bear the expense of an appeal, but the consequences for future charges can be severe.

Donna Shier, Partner and Certified Environmental Law Specialist, and Serin Remedios, Student-at-Law, are with Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP.

This article was originally published by Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP on www.willmsshier.com. Click here to view the original article.

The information and comments herein are for the general information of the reader only and do not constitute legal advice or opinion. The reader should seek specific legal advice for particular applications of the law to specific situations.

Endnotes

  1. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (“MOECC”), Court Bulletin, “Individual Fined $5,000 For Well Water Violations” (6 July 2016), online: Ontario <news.ontario.ca>.
  2. MOECC, Court Bulletin, “Company Owner Fined $3,000 For Well Water Violation” (6 July 2016), online: Ontario < news.ontario.ca>.
  3. MOECC, Court Bulletin, “Company Fined $5,500 For Water Violations” (6 July 2016), online: Ontario <news.ontario.ca>.
  4. MOECC, Court Bulletin, “Toronto Company Fined $9,000 For Environmental Violations” (6 July 2016), online: Ontario < news.ontario.ca>.
  5. MOECC, Court Bulletin, “Toronto Company Fined $30,000 For Non-compliance” (6 July 2016), online: Ontario < news.ontario.ca>.
  6. MOECC, Court Bulletin, “Lancaster Golf Course Fined $3,000 For Pesticides Violations” (18 July 2016), online: Ontario < news.ontario.ca>.
  7. MOECC, Court Bulletin, “Farm Fined $4,000 For Nutrient Management Act Violations” (18 July 2016), online: Ontario < news.ontario.ca>.
  8. Ontario Water Resource Act, RSO 1990, c O.40, s 108(1) [OWRA].
  9. Environmental Protection Act, RSO 1990, c E.19, s 187(4) [EPA].
  10. Pesticides Act, RSO 1990, c P.11, s 45(4); Nutrient Management Act, 2002, SO 2002, c 4, s 48(3); OWRA, supra note 8 at s 110; Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002, SO 2002, c 32, s 144; EPA, supra note 9 at s 188.

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