On April 16, 2002, Lake Ontario Keeper submitted its response to an Ontario government proposal to introduce "Administrative Monetary Penalties" as a means of punishing polluters and "streamlining" the environmental law enforcement process.
In effect, LOK opposes the MOE proposal because it would further impair the ability of provincial environmental enforcement officers (the ?Investigative Enforcement Branch?) to carry out investigations, charge polluters and prosecute them in open court with the assistance of the Attorney General . We would go so far as to say that the proposed policy ?decriminalizes? much of Ontario?s environmental law process and reduces the role of general deterrence in preventing future offences.
The proposed Administrative Monetary Penalties Implementation Policy, clearly demonstrates a shift away from consistent enforcement of environmental laws and independence for environmental enforcement officers - a scheme which appears to have stemmed directly from the government regulators themselves, without support from the public or the environmental community.
This lack of public support is particularly troubling in light of the fact that Administrative Monetary Penalties actually increase opportunities for the government to excuse illegal environmental conduct, avoid official investigations, and limit the discretion of the Attorney General regarding the laying of charges and/or the penalties at sentencing.
This is light-handed regulation of environmental crime. If the proposed policy is implemented, the government will effectively create a two-tier approach to enforcing criminal laws. Crimes such as theft, tax evasion, welfare fraud and impaired driving will be held to the highest standards of enforcement, while environmental crimes will be held to the lowest standard of enforcement. This certainly is not proper in light of the high priority the public places on the enforcement of environmental laws.
Our experience has clearly demonstrated that a visible respect for environmental laws, consistent enforcement, and the legal process are key elements of an effective deterrence program.
In addition to recommending that the proposed Administrative Monetary Penalties Implementation Policy be rejected, Lake Ontario Keeper and EBI further recommend:
1. The government develop a policy on compliance and enforcement that reflects the public?s desire to see environmental laws administered and enforced in a public forum that is fair, predictable, and consistent;
2. The government ensure that enforcement officials are given sufficient resources and mandate to investigate and prosecute polluters; and,
3. A new agency be set up as a means to improve the independence and authority of Ontario's environmental police while enhancing public confidence in law enforcement.
Lake Ontario Keeper and EBI also note that the new Environment Minister, Chris Stockwell, is well-known for his comments about the need to be tough on crime. We hope that he will see the hypocrisy in taking this stand if it applies to young offenders, welfare mothers, street kids, or drug possession and not to corporate, government or individuals engaging in illegal conduct which pollutes our environment.
As Justice O?Connor reminds us in his recent report on the Walkerton Inquiry, failure by the Ministry of Environment to reiterate to polluters the purpose of Ontario?s environmental laws and failure to ensure these laws are consistently enforced will undermine any other pleas for voluntary compliance.
Our full submission is also available online.