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CANADA: Province Should Share More Details About Polluters

The Vancouver Sun
June 13th, 2006

Looking for details about British Columbia's biggest polluters? You won't find them in the newly re-introduced compliance and enforcement summary produced by the B.C. Environment Ministry.

Among those convicted for pollution and other environmental offences listed in the quarterly report, covering the period from Jan. 1, 2006, to March 31, 2006, was Golden Boy Foods Inc. of Burnaby, fined $65,000 for violating Section 3(2) of the Waste Management Act, which has something to do with introducing industrial or business waste into the environment.

That's not quite enough information for the curious, the Opposition New Democrats or the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. Some have called for more complete and comprehensive data, not just on those convicted of pollution offences, but those under investigation. NDP environment critic Shane Simpson hit the nail on the head when he said the report doesn't describe the act the violator committed or what impacts the infraction had on the environment. "You see a big company like Canadian Forest Products getting a $575 fine, but you don't really get any idea what it did."

The federal government is a little more forthcoming with information on breaches of laws that fall within its jurisdiction. Not to pick on Golden Boy Foods, but it pleaded guilty in January in provincial court to two counts of violating the federal Food and Drugs Act. It was fined $20,000 for storing food under unsanitary conditions. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency didn't spell out exactly what was being stored or how but that still might have provided sufficient detail for the public to act accordingly -- if the offences weren't ancient history.

The problem with the federal disclosure is that the inspections that led to Golden Boy's conviction were carried out between December 2003 and March 2005. That's too long a lag to be useful.

The lesson the provincial government can take from this is to ensure that the data it provides in its quarterly compliance report is timely. If companies cited for pollution violations have cleaned up their act in the interim, their compliance should be noted in the report. Otherwise, they risk being convicted twice, once in court and again, much later, in the court of public opinion.

B.C.'s Environment Minister Barry Penner said he hopes the next list will be more comprehensive, pairing names and citations, adding that the report may serve as an extra deterrent "if you know your name is going to show up."

That's all the more reason to make certain the information is not only complete but current.





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