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In R. v. Matchim, a recent case before the Ontario Court of Justice (March 18 2011), firefighters extinguished a blaze in the basement of a home on Vincent Street, in Newmarket. An explosion then occurred in the main sanitary sewer line on the street.
A manhole cover flew into the air and the odour of gasoline came from the storm sewer manhole. Nearby residents were evacuated from their homes.

During the evacuation, Lisa Matchim, a Vincent Street resident, admitted that she had dumped gasoline down the drain of her laundry tub about 10 to 15 minutes before the firemen arrived on the street. Vapours from the gasoline likely travelled up the basement drain into the air of a nearby home, igniting a spark generated by the electrical switch on a washing machine, causing the fire.

Ms. Matchim pleaded guilty to discharging gasoline into the natural environment, causing an adverse effect, and was fined $2500 plus 25% Victim Fine Surcharge.

How does this relate to the “natural environment”? Ms. Matchim discharged the liquid gasoline into a sanitary sewer; in vapour form, the gasoline ended up in the air of a neighbouring building — under Section 2 of the Environmental Protection Act, this constitutes discharge into the “natural environment”.

Jackie Campbell, B.Sc.(Pharm.), LLB

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