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In theory, jail sentences can be imposed for many serious environmental offences. However, they remain rare in Canada. Generally,  jail is imposed only for prolonged defiance of environmental orders coupled with serious environmental risk or harm.

This fall, William Lane was sentenced to 18 months in jail after accumulating 300,000 tires on property in Melbourne, Ontario. In addition, Lane consented to a court order prohibiting him from engaging in any further activities related to the recycling of designated wastes, such as tires, and from transporting depositing storing or processing any further tires at the Melbourne property.

Lane has been accumulating tires on the site since 1992, and repeated promises to reduce the number of tires have proved ineffective. He holds no certificate of approval for this waste disposal site. The site is in breach of the Ontario Fire Code and of a Director’s order to get rid of most of the tires. The health unit designated the property as a West Nile breeding site, and the local municipality considers the site a “ticking time bomb”.

Unfortunately, the court order and jail sentence may not solve this environmental and public health problem. Estimated site cleanup costs were between $1.2 and $2 million, and nothing in the court decision indicates that Lane is financially capable of paying them.

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