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In October 2004, choking fumes from a giant garbage fire tormented Vaughan residents and created widespread health concerns. It took millions to put out the fire and clean up the transfer site. This week, those responsible for the garbage mountain were finally sent to jail, and fined a record $1.7 million, plus the 25% Victim Fine Surcharge.

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The two principals, Robert Sansone and Edmon Hanna, were each sentenced to six months in jail, and given small fines. Their assistant was jailed for 3 months. The four corporations that used to own and run the site were fined nearly $1.7 million, though it is unlikely that much of these fines will be collected. The Keele Street transfer site is now operated by Waste Excellence Corporation, which paid for most of the cleanup. (MOE thinks I should point out that Waste Excellence (though not the 310 waste folks) are my client.)

Jail sentences are still rare in Canadian environmental law. Many of the relatively few jail sentences have been given for what is effectively contempt of court, repeated defiance of court orders. This case is even rarer: jail imposed for a single, grave environmental incident.

310 Waste operated a transfer / recycling site for construction and demolition waste. It was allowed to store up to 1500 tonnes of waste, but actually piled up a garbage mountain more than 10 times this size. By the time the MOE noticed, 310 claimed it had no money to dispose of the waste, blaming a huge financial loss it had taken to “help out” the MOE.

In 2003, 310 Waste had removed millions of used tires from the Casboro site in Brampton, but never got paid for the job. It sued Casboro for (ironically) $1.7 million. Over the next three years, this case set an important legal precedent that environmental cleanup costs can be recovered through construction liens. Unfortunately, the time to set the lien claim down for trial expired before the Divisional Court decided a preliminary motion on whether 310’s claim was lienable. Thus, 310 Waste never got paid for the tires, though a civil claim is still underway. And by then, the Keele Street garbage pile had caught fire.

It is therefore hard not to have a little sympathy for 310 Waste and its principals. The case also raises  questions about the ineffectiveness of MOE regulators and their lack of tools to deal with cash-strapped polluters.The detailed grounds for imposing jail have not yet been released, but presumably include: the massive breach of the waste storage limit in the certificate of approval; the grave harm caused by the fire, and the defendants’ failure to put out the fire, to clean it up or to pay anyone compensation.

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