As we wrote earlier, in December 2014 Marilyn Burgoon received approval to bring a private prosecution against Executive Flight Centre Fuel Services and the Province of British Columbia for violations of the Fisheries Act related to a large fuel spill into a sensitive creek. The province took no enforcement action relating to the spill, likely because of its own role in causing it.
One or the other senior levels of government usually take over private environmental prosecutions, but, as of May 19, 2015, the federal government was still dithering on this one. The entire burden of prosecuting this case may therefore fall on the public-spirited Ms. Burgoon, without help from any level of government.
The case was before Justice Richard Hewson of the BC Provincial Court on May 19. Reportedly, the federal prosecutor told Justice Hewson that the federal government had not yet decided whether it would take over the prosecution. As described by BC Local News:
The judge was not impressed. “Why not?” he asked federal government prosecutor Todd Gerhart, who appeared in court by audio link.
Gerhart said there was still more investigation to do.
“How soon will you have an answer”?
“I don’t know,” said Gerhart.
Hewson said he had no inclination to wait any longer and set a court date for Monday, May 25 for an arraignment hearing to set a trial date. Gerhart said he would not be there for that hearing.
Ms. Burgoon is reportedly disappointed that the federal government has decided not to take over the case, but optimistic about the potential upside:
“Often when Public Prosecution does take over they delay it, and it never gets to trial, it just sits there.
“If we do not have the public being taken care of through the system,” Burgoon said, “it will take the citizenry to do it, and I am ready to go ahead and continue. I was confused that it was never processed initially. That is the expectation when someone violates the law.”
Good for Ms. Burgoon! If the government will not enforce the law, will citizens step in?