A spill is not necessarily an offence, according to an Ontario Court, on appeal. UBA Inc. was transporting a cargo of caustic when a pressure disc unexpectedly ruptured. The rupture allowed hundreds of gallons of caustic to spread on the road. The spill was promptly reported. Cleanup measures began immediately and were completed later that day, despite delays caused by the Ministry of Environment officer. During the cleanup, the road was closed to general traffic, but any business requiring access via that road was permitted to pass. There was no proof that any business had lost money as a result of the spill.
The Ministry argued that the mere occurrence of the spill, and the closing of the road to general traffic, were sufficient to make the spill a “discharge” contrary to Section 14 of the Environmental Protection Act. The defence argued that there was no adverse effect, since anyone who required access to this little traveled street had been able to use it during the cleanup. Both the trial court and the appeal court agreed with the defence and dismissed the charge. The courts also agreed that UBA had used due diligence, even though it could not explain why the disc failed.
In this case, the company involved didn’t do anything wrong, and should not have been prosecuted. It’s encouraging to see the courts rejecting prosecutions for minor, low fault spills that are quickly and professionally managed.
Congratulations to Barry Weintraub for the win.