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In case you missed it, nearly 3 years following the event, Shell Canada Ltd has been sentenced for a spill of “flare knock-out liquids” at a Sarnia-area refinery. The January 2013 spill affected members of the nearby Aamjiwnaang First Nation, who experienced a variety of adverse health effects (including sore eyes and throats, vomiting, nausea, headaches, and anxiety) and were forced to respond to a “shelter-in-place” advisory.

Late last fall, Shell pled guilty to one charge under section 14(1) of the EPA for discharging a contaminant (here, an odour containing mercaptan) into the natural environment that caused an adverse effect. The charge had been laid back in January 2015.

The company was fined $500,000, plus the 25 per cent victim fine surcharge. Additionally, pursuant to section 72(3)(c) of the Provincial Offences Act, a probation order was issued requiring Shell to send payment of $200,000 by wire transfer directly to Aamjiwnaang within 10 hours of the issuance of the order.

The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, which would otherwise have sought a $700,000 fine, was willing to forego the higher fine against the company given the circumstances of the incident. This kind of arrangement, where some portion of what would otherwise be part of a fine is diverted directly towards those impacted as a result of an environmental infraction (or, for example, some charitable environmental organization), is highly unusual for the Province. It is, however, seen with some frequency in the federal context.

Aamjiwnaang has long struggled with ill effects resulting from its unfortunately close proximity to Sarnia’s chemical valley. The $200,000 payment to Aamjiwnaang was intended to provide the First Nation with resources to assist its efforts in protecting the quality of its airshed.

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