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On July 27, 2016, the Ontario Court of Justice levied $70,000 in fines against a Hamilton company for contravention of the federal PCB regulations and for failing to comply with an Environmental Protection Compliance Order, issued under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA).

Under the PCB regulations, PCBs can only be used in particular concentrations. The conviction related to the continued use, and failure to store or send for destruction to an authorized facility, of equipment containing PCBs at concentrations in excess of those permitted under the regulations.

Of the over 100 convictions under numerous federal environmental statutes and regulations listed by Environment Canada on its website (dating back to 2011), only three relate to PCB infractions. Fines in the two other cases were $50,000, for a release of PCB contaminated oil, and $87,000, for a PCB spill.

Under CEPA, there are over 57 regulations related to environmental protection, regulating everything from the carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants to solvent degreasing regulations. In 2011, Ecojustice released a report regarding the federal government’s record of enforcement under federal statutes, including CEPA. The overall conclusion was that the number of prosecutions and convictions was extremely small in relation to the number of inspections, warnings and investigations.

This may make sense, in so far as prosecutions are the most expensive form of enforcement tool, and should be used only when most necessary. However, Ecojustice notes “the credible threat of a successful prosecution is crucial to achieving deterrent effect, [and] these low absolute numbers [0 to 11 convictions under CEPA between 2000 and 2010] (and the small fines accompanying convictions) give rise to concern regarding the overall effectiveness of the CEPA enforcement regime.”

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