After years of litigation, a British Columbia land developer has been personally fined $20,000 for harmful alteration of fish habitat contrary to section 35 of the Fisheries Act. He illegally cleared land and damaged a sensitive fish bearing creek, in order to prepare the land for a subdivision. In addition, his company, Mission Western Developments Ltd., was fined $35,000, paid $58,540 to the Fraser Valley Conservancy for restoration costs, plus donated 1.75 acres of environmentally sensitive land to the Conservancy. They also incurred over $265,000 in legal expenses, as they fought the case every step of the way.
Illegal land clearing is a distressingly common offence, and one that rarely results in convictions. The total fine is still fairly trivial compared to the development value of the land, but better than such fines used to be.
R. v. Larsen, 2015 BCSC 1334, is the decision on the sentence appeal, the conviction appeal having been already dismissed.
The developer could have lawfully developed his 5 acre property in conformity with an approved environmental plan, but he chose not to follow the plan or the specific restrictive covenant protecting creekside vegetation. The clearing significantly damaged fish habitat by “cutting down of a number of trees, the removal of shade from the creek and the currying of adjacent vegetation” thereby altering the fish habitat to a “degree that was more than trivial or minimal.” This produced alterations in the natural stream temperature, reduced large woody debris and its food and nutrient contributions, and decreased soil and bank stability, all of which seriously impact fish and fish habitat.
The harm to Windebank Creek was “not insignificant” and “will take years to remedy.” According to the trial judge, the developer’s conduct “showed a high degree of recklessness”.
The judge estimated the net value of the donated land at about $25,000, and deducted that from the corporate fine imposed by the trial judge. The fine imposed at trial was otherwise upheld on appeal.