Think somebody is breaking an environmental law? You can ask the government to investigate!
If you have good reason to believe that a person, company or group is violating an environmental act, regulation or instrument (permit, licence or approval), and if the government is doing nothing about it, you can ask the government to investigate the violation under the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR).
For example, Ontarians have asked the government to investigate:
Since 1994, Ontarians have submitted over 230 Applications for Investigation. Although ministries often deny these applications, they frequently visit the site of the alleged contravention and act on the issues raised in the application. In other words, Applications for Investigation often do a great deal of good even if the ministry denies the application.
Note that you can only request investigations from certain ministries under certain laws. Also, do not expect instant results. Even if undertaken, applications take months or years to produce results. For urgent matters, call your nearest ministry office (search the Ontario Government’s online telephone directory). If it is a spill onto land or into water, call the Ministry of the Environment’s Spills Action Centre using its province-wide toll-free number: 1-800-268-6060. The Spills Action Centre operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Any two Ontario residents can jointly ask a ministry to investigate if they think someone has contravened or violated an environmentally significant act, regulation, or instrument. For example, you may believe that the owner of a junkyard is illegally disposing of tires at night, or that a construction company is filling in protected wetlands, or that a company is releasing toxic air emissions at a rate higher than permitted in its environmental compliance approval.
Before you complete your application, gather as much evidence as you can about the alleged violation. Note the location, time of day, people involved, any physical evidence (such as dead fish, empty chemical barrels, etc.), and any other evidence (for example, licence plate numbers, company names, videos or photographs of the activity). If you witnessed the incident, write down what you saw, as soon as you can after you saw it. The stronger the evidence you put together, the better the chance that the ministry will undertake the investigation and take action.
You may only ask for an investigation to be undertaken in relation to acts, regulations or instruments that are prescribed under the EBR for purposes of Applications for Investigation.
For more information on how you can apply for an investigation, contact the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.
Nudging an Asphalt Maker into Compliance
In May 2012, Lynda Lukasik and Don McLean noticed something curious: McAsphalt Industries, Canada’s largest asphalt maker, had begun operating an asphalt blending and storage facility in Hamilton even though it hadn’t yet obtained the air emissions approval required by law. So the pair submitted an Application for Investigation under the EBR on behalf of the non-profit organization Environment Hamilton. The Ministry of the Environment decided to conduct the investigation and found that the facility was indeed operating without a valid approval, violating the Environmental Protection Act. The ministry ordered the company to cease operations until an approval was issued, which ultimately included terms and conditions like installing equipment to control emissions. The ministry committed to monitoring and inspecting the facility.
Addressing Noise and Emissions from a Neighbouring Business
“In 2000, the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) represented clients who were suffering serious health impacts caused by noise and particulate emissions from a business operation. Despite numerous complaints to municipal and provincial governments, the pollution continued unabated for almost 30 years. After CELA’s clients requested an investigation under the EBR, the Ministry of the Environment laid charges and the company was convicted and fined. This case highlights the profound and immediate impact that the EBR can have in ensuring prompt government action to prevent environmental harm.”
Ramani Nadarajah, Counsel, Canadian Environmental Law Association