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Investigations of environmental offences

Region: Ontario Answer # 377

To ensure that the rules and regulations established by the Environmental Protection Act are followed, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks has the power to send environmental officers to inspect businesses and industry, and to investigate potential offences.

Inspections

Inspections are conducted to locate and identify pollution, to check water quality, or to make sure that businesses and individuals are obeying the terms and conditions of their environmental licences. Essentially, inspections serve to locate problems and have offensive activities discontinued.

Investigations

Investigations are different from inspections. Investigations are conducted to locate evidence of an environmental offence. There are two main reasons why environmental officers usually begin an investigation. First, investigations are sometimes started by a Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks officer who observes evidence of an offence when responding to a spill or performing a routine inspection of a business or industry. Second, the officer could be responding to a special request.

Applications for Investigation

The Environmental Bill of Rights allows any two members of the public to request an investigation into an environmental offence. To request an investigation, the individuals must complete and submit an Application for Investigation form, available online or by mail from the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP).

The application requires the applicants names and addresses, the names and addresses of the alleged violator, and any evidence available regarding the alleged violation. This may include:

  • the location,
  • the time of day,
  • people involved,
  • a list of witnesses, if possible
  • any physical evidence (for example, dead fish), and
  • any other evidence, such as licence plate numbers, company names, videos or photographs of the activity.

If the applicants witnessed the incident, they should write down exactly what they saw. A sworn statement of belief, completed in front of a commissioner for taking oaths, lawyer or notary, must be included with the application.

On April 1, 2019, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario became part of the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario which assumed responsibility for overseeing and reporting on the operation of the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993 (EBR). The Auditor General’s Office will monitor and report on ministries’ compliance with the EBR. This includes how they handle Applications for Investigation.

For more information on Applications for Investigations and how to submit an application, visit ontario.ca, or view the FAQs from the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario.

Notice for inspections or investigations

Environmental officers can enter public property and look around without requiring special permission. Environmental officers do not have to give notice that they will be inspecting a business or industry, especially if it is an emergency situation or if they have legal authority to enter the property. If officers want to enter private property, they must have the permission of the property owner or occupier, or they must have legal authority to enter the premises. For example, an officer may be allowed to enter a property based on an environmental law such as the Pesticides Act which gives officers the authority to inspect certain properties.

Regulated businesses are especially prone to inspections. Also, if you are applying for a Environmental Compliance Approval you must allow an officer to enter your property for an inspection or you will not receive the Approval. Inspection officers must identify themselves if you ask them to, and they must explain the purpose of the inspection.

Inspections normally occur during business hours, but they can take place late at night for businesses that normally operate at that time. The time required to complete an inspection will depend on the site being inspected and the type of inspection being conducted.

In comparison, when officers are investigating an offence, in most cases they are required to have a search warrant. Extensive investigations of offences may last for several weeks.

In addition, environmental officers who conduct inspections or investigations can take samples of water or waste, and they can take copies of relevant documents. It is an offence to obstruct an environmental officer or to give false information. Visit the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks to view What to Expect When an Environmental Officer Inspects Your Facility.

If you require additional information about your rights and responsibilities concerning environmental inspections and investigations, you should contact an environmental law lawyer.

 


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