Environmental offences and penalties

Region: Ontario Answer # 374

Environmental offences may be committed under federal law, provincial law, or both.

Federal environmental offences

There are two main federal statutes that govern polluting activates throughout Canada. The first, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) regulates the management and control of toxic substances and hazardous waste. The second, the Fisheries Act, prohibits any activity that harms a fish habitat and prohibits the deposit of any substance into waters frequented by fish, that would be harmful to fish or the use of fish by people, unless regulated by the Fisheries Act or other federal regulations.

Offences can include failure to comply with regulations regarding the disposal of toxic waste and chemicals into water, releasing illegal contaminants or emissions in to the air, or failure to comply with orders to stop or correct a violation.

Other federal environmental acts include the Hazardous Products Act, which makes it illegal to advertise, sell or import products that contain toxic or dangerous substances; the Canada Wildlife Act, and the Canada National Parks Act.

Provincial environmental offences

Provincial environmental protection laws also make it illegal to release contaminants into the environment. Contaminants may include solids, liquids, gases, noise, vibrations, or radiation that harm the environment or affect peoples’ health.

In most cases, it is necessary to have a licence to dispose of waste or to release substances into the air or water that could harm the environment, and is an offence under environmental law not to have a licence.

Other environmental offences include:

  • Failure to comply with an order or permit
  • Discharging too much pollution
  • Improper storage of wastewater
  • Failure to submit required reports
  • Failure to report and cleanup spills

There are many other areas that are covered under federal and provincial environmental laws. They include: soil pollution, forestry regulations, pesticide control, species at risk and wildlife conservation, land use, energy and climate change.

Who can be held responsible?

The directors and senior officers of a corporation have a legal duty to ensure that the company’s activities comply with the law. The officers and directors can be held personally responsible for environmental offences caused by anyone in the organization, including individual employees.

Employees who break environmental laws can also be held legally responsible for their actions. Shareholders who are not officers or employees of the company will not normally be held responsible, unless they have taken an active role in the management of the company.

Strict liability

A corporation or its directors can be held responsible for environmental offences even if they did not intend to commit the offence. This is sometimes referred to as ‘strict liability.’ However, the corporation or its directors may not be held responsible if they used “due diligence.” Due diligence generally means that someone took all reasonable care to avoid the harm.

Provincial penalties

The penalties for committing an environmental offence can include: paying the cost of the clean-up, fines for the corporation or the individuals involved, jail terms for the individuals involved, revoking licences, and stripping the company of profit it earned as a result of the offence.

Federal penalties

Canada’s Environmental Enforcement Act (EEA) enforces most federal environmental legislation, including the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, (CEPA).

Penalties for offences committed under CEPA include:

  • Warnings of a violation allowing alleged offender to comply with legislation
  • Tickets for offences, such as failure to submit reports
  • Orders to recall illegal substances or products from the marketplace
  • Orders to put an immediate stop to illegal activity or prevent a violation from occurring or to require action to be taken
  • Injunctions to stop or prevent a violation
  • Prosecution

For the most serious offences, penalties could include imprisonment for up-to three years, fines up-to $1,000,000 a day for each day an offence continues, or both. As well, the offender may be ordered to pay for the cost of clean-up or forfeit any profits that were earned as a result of the offence.

An alternative to court prosecution for an individual, company, or government agency, Environmental Protection Alternative Measures (EPAMs) may be used that dictate measures the accused must take to restore compliance with the law. This could include cleaning up environmental damage or installation of better pollution control technology or monitoring systems.


Getting advice

If you need additional information about environmental law in Ontario, visit the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.

For legal advice, contact an environmental law lawyer.


You now have 3 options:

Was your question answered?

Yes    No

What information would you like to see added?

Submit an Edit Request

What are your changes?*

Page loaded. Thank you