They’ll ask, but not tell

There’s an old saying: “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” That seems to be the mindset of Environment Canada and its reluctance to make public sensitive information about health matters when it comes to industries breaking the laws.

There’s an old saying: “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”

That seems to be the mindset of Environment Canada and its reluctance to make public sensitive information about health matters when it comes to industries breaking the laws. The government is being hush-hush about those smokestacks next door, charges a report released Monday by environment lawyers with Ecojustice.

The group, a highly respected charitable organization comprised of experts dedicated to defending citizens’ rights to a healthy environment, further concludes the feds are dragging their feet in cracking down on environmental crime.

And it sings praises of the system in the United States, which has a website concerned citizens can consult for full details about smokestacks in their neighbourhood.

But for the average layperson in Canada, it’s an insurmountable task to obtain similar sensitive information, says Ecojustice.

According to Canadian Press reporter Heather Scoffield covering the report: “In Canada, it takes a law office, a team of 10 law students and two years of combing through reams of paper to find the answer. And even then, it’s not complete.”

That’s what Ecojustice faced in compiling its assessment on Ottawa’s record of cracking down on environmental crime. The group also found the same censorship rules apply to the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act and other federal legislation and regulations.

“At present, only partial and piecemeal information regarding the federal government’s enforcement of environmental laws is made available to Canadians through annual reports, enforcement notifications and news releases,” the report says.

And that’s despite numerous complaints from the auditor general and information commissioner, chastising Environment Canada’s reluctance to make key information public in a timely manner, the report adds.

Ecojustice’s report gives rise to a fair question: Who is Environment Canada really protecting, industry or the health of Canadians?

One would think if Environment Canada increased enforcement, a similar increase in environmental investigations would be reflected. But that’s not the case. The number of investigations have remained stable at about 5,000 a year since 2004, while the number of enforcement officers under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act more than doubled in less than 10 years to 188 in 2009 from 90 in 2000.

Further, the number of charges and convictions under the CEPA have remained stagnant despite the doubling of enviro-cops. Environment Canada might argue it’s the result of its tough stand. Then why double enforcement officers to police a clampdown when laws are supposedly bringing industry in line?

And despite the beefed-up forces, prosecutions against offenders have been dismal, and deterrence has amounted to a slap on the wrist, Ecojustice concludes. Prosecutions are rare, and convictions even rarer.

Only twice in the past decade has the number of convictions reached double digits in a single year.

And when there are convictions — only 23 in the last three years — offenders face an average fine of $10,524, which hardly serves as a deterrent.

“The total number of prosecutions and convictions is extremely small in relation to the number of inspections, warnings and investigations,” says the report.

And given the low penalties, is it possible industries could toss caution to the wind, take a chance in breaking the law, and settle for a fine that amounts to pocket change if caught? The temptation is there.

“Since the credible threat of a successful prosecution is crucial in achieving a deterrent effect, these low absolute numbers (and the small fines accompanying convictions) give rise to concern regarding the overall effectiveness of the CEPA enforcement regime,” says Ecojustice.

In the U.S., information on environmental enforcement is gathered on a single portal. It’s presented consistently, and it’s searchable. In Canada, such a luxury doesn’t exist, and its citizens are played for fools by a government believing what they don’t know won’t hurt them.

Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
AstraZeneca-linked blood clot confirmed in Alberta

A case of an AstraZeneca-linked blood clot has been confirmed in Alberta,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

The Red Deer Rebels allowed four straight goals from the Medicine Hat Tigers Friday night on the road. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers hand Red Deer Rebels 10th straight loss

Tigers 4 Rebels 2 Through 17 games in the shortened WHL season,… Continue reading

Meghan Huizing has been selected by Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools as a finalist for the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) 2021 Edwin Parr Award. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Regional Catholic Schools)
Red Deer Catholic names finalist for Edwin Parr Award

Meghan Huizing from St. Gregory the Great Catholic School in Blackfalds has… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Brad Dahr, 53, is facing numerous charges. (Photo contributed by Alberta RCMP)
Alberta man charged for alleged sexual offences against children

An Edmonton man has been charged for alleged sexual offences against children… Continue reading

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Vials containing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni
China, Russia using their COVID-19 vaccines to gain political influence

OTTAWA — China and Russia have been using their locally produced COVID-19… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Tuesday, March 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau announces donation to Duke of Edinburgh’s award ahead of funeral

Canada will donate $200,000 to the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award as… Continue reading

Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry (Science) Will Amos responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. The Liberal MP who inadvertently flashed his parliamentary colleagues says the fact that a screenshot of him in the nude was leaked to the media sends a troubling message about the corrosive state of politics in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
Canada’s naked MP speaks out: leaked photo sends message ‘anything goes’ in politics

OTTAWA — The Liberal MP who inadvertently flashed his parliamentary colleagues says… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s $10 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the $10 million jackpot… Continue reading

Opinion: Canada’s self-esteem needs Trump

Well, it was fun while it lasted. For four years, with Donald… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Shenanigans on the links

It must be something about my Scottish heritage but I seem to… Continue reading

Most Read