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Contamination at gas stationThe City of Hamilton has fought the Ministry of the Environment to a draw.

Few defendants can afford a prolonged fight with the Ministry of the Environment. For most, fines are far lower than the cost of being innocent [i.e. a full-scale trial], so sooner or later they plead guilty to something and get the matter behind them. Occasionally, however, defendants fight their way through prolonged legal sagas, perhaps on a point of principle or to show the MOE they’re not pushovers.

One such case is the Ministry’s prosecution of the City of Hamilton for discharging thousands of scumballs into a marsh, on April 26, 1999.The scumballs had accumulated in part of the City’s sewage works that had never been identified as requiring cleaning. It took the City a year to collect the balls. They were unsightly, but were they a breach of the Ontario Water Resources Act? After a previous sewage spill, the City had pled guilty and been hit with a huge fine. This time, Hamilton defended itself stoutly through three trials and two different appeals.

The result: an acquittal. According to the justice of the peace, there was no evidence that the scumballs caused environmental harm and, in any event, the City had used due diligence. Hamilton may not have saved any money by fighting, but it successfully defended its reputation.

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