Priestly Demolition fined $70,000 for Spill and Failure to Report to MOECC
The defendant, Priestly Demolition Inc. caused chlorine gas to be discharged into the environment when an employee operating a magnetic grapple attempted to move old pressurized gas cylinders. During the move, a valve snapped releasing the gas. The employee experienced a burning sensation and was taken to the hospital where he received treatment and stayed overnight. The employee has suffered no known long-term harm to his health.
The chlorine cloud released from the gas cylinder drifted across the road and engulfed a neighbour. The neighbour experienced itchiness and an overpowering smell of bleach and was taken to the hospital for treatment. It also appears that the neighbour has not suffered long-term harm to her health. Priestly Demolition Inc. failed to notify the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (“MOECC”) of the spill. The neighbour initially phoned the fire department who ultimately notified the MOECC of the spill.
At trial, Priestly argued that it had acted on the reasonable belief that the compressed gas cylinders were corroded and that they were empty. This argument was rejected because the employee who moved the cylinders had consulted with the metal recovery manager on how to deal with them and the manager had inspected them the day before. There was uncontested evidence at trial that it was unsafe to use a magnetic grapple to move a compressed gas cylinder that contains material.
Priestly also unsuccessfully argued that it should not be charged for the spill because the scrap yard is owned by a company called Stewart Salvage Ltd. and not by Priestly. This was rejected because Priestly rents the property from Stewart Salvage Ltd., was responsible for the operation of the scrap yard and filled out a WSIB form relating to the incident.
A fine of $40,000 was issued for the discharge along with a fine of $25,000 for failing to notify the MOECC. The Crown appealed the fine for the second charge on the notification issue and on appeal the fine was raised to $30,000.
Priestly also appealed the decision on the basis of unreasonable delay contrary to s. 11(b) of the Charter. The court found no breach as Priestly is a corporation and as such must show that the delay cause prejudice to trial fairness.