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$21,000 fine and restitution for road salt damage to trees

On April 6, 2016, Jaret Bousfield was convicted under the Environmental Protection Act for permitting the discharge of road salt that caused or was likely to cause damage to a neighbour’s mature cedar trees. Bousfield pleaded guilty to the charge, and was fined $5,000, plus the 25% victim fine surcharge. In addition, he also paid $16,000 in restitution to his neighbour for the damaged trees.

Mr. Bousfield was storing road salt at his property within a non-waterproof structure, next to his neighbour’s property. The neighbour had a row of tall, mature cedar trees along the property line. Many turned brown, and those next to the salt storage structure were affected by water runoff. Following investigation by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (“MOECC”), the defendant was charged.

We have written a lot about tree issues over the years, but this is the first prosecution we are aware of under thesection 14 of the Environmental Protection Act related to tree damage from polluting activities. Tree damage cases are otherwise litigated through civil claims for trespass and the destruction of a trees. Other tree cases relate to “boundary tree” disputes between neighbours. These have recently been tried in courts in contrasting and confusing ways (see our blogs here and here).

Prior to this prosecution, we would not have expected a lot of action from the MOECC on harm caused to trees by polluting activities. However, it makes sense for the MOECC to prosecute these kinds of pollution offences. Salt is a significant contaminant and harmful to the natural environment. In this article from the Smithsonian, the authors note that salt used to keep roadways safe “has to go somewhere”.

“After it dissolves—and is split into sodium and chloride ions—it gets carried away via runoff and deposited into both surface water (streams, lakes and rivers) and the groundwater under our feet.”

In 2004, under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, the Government of Canada published a “Code of Practice for the Environmental Management of Road Salts” in an effort to help municipalities and other road authorities to reduce the impact of road salts on the environment.

If you’re looking for an alternative to salting your own property’s walkways or driveways, these do exist. Green Ventures writes about several options you can consider.