Environmental

Retrial: Lower Fines for Environmental Consultant

By Meredith James

In 2011, we wrote about the record $161,000 in fines imposed upon an environmental consultant and his company. In addition, $40,500 in fines were imposed on their clients, Mr. James Sinclair and his company Sinclair Landing, owner of a contaminated site. Following an appeal and retrial, the fines imposed on geo-environmental firm Bruce A. Brown Associates Limited (Brown Assoc.) and its Director Bruce A. Brown (Dr. Brown), were reduced to $45,500, plus the 25% victim fine surcharge.

Dr. Brown and his company were convicted of improper abandonment of wells and providing false or misleading information to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC), contrary to the Ontario Water Resources Act (OWRA). They were acquitted of two other charges under the OWRA. It appears that their clients, Mr. James Sinclair and his company Sinclair Landing, did not appeal. This was one of a number of prosecutions of Mr. Sinclair and his company.

As described by the MOECC:

On September 6, 2007, Dr. Brown wrote a letter to the ministry in which he advised that his firm had commissioned three test wells on the site. This claim was false or misleading. In fact, the wells had been commissioned by James Sinclair, whose company Sinclair’s Landing Inc. owned the site, without the involvement of Dr. Brown or Brown Assoc. Sinclair commissioned the wells without hiring a licenced well contractor and one of the wells was drilled in violation of a securement order issued by the Superior Court that prohibited Sinclair, Sinclair’s Landing Inc., and their employees or agents, from entering onto portions of the site without prior written permission from the ministry. This securement order had been issued as a result of Sinclair causing the discharge of PCBs from the site and repeatedly violating ministry orders regarding the site.

The three test wells were eventually decommissioned by Sinclair in July 2008. Sinclair decommissioned the wells without placing between 50 and 150 centimetres in vertical thickness of bentonite chips, pellets, granules or powder in the well opening in accordance with the manufacturer’s specification, contrary to Sec.21.1(1)8.i. of Regulation 903 made under the OWRA. This step is required by Regulation 903 in order to ensure that an abandoned well is thoroughly and flexibly sealed to prevent migration of contaminants. Sinclair failed to add bentonite to the wells as required because of directions given to him by Dr. Brown and Brown Assoc. that the step was not required.

The ministry’s Investigations and Enforcement Branch (IEB) subsequently investigated these and related matters. During the investigation, Dr. Brown wrote a letter to the investigator in which he claimed that “Neither I nor anyone from this office provided Mr. Sinclair with a list of material requirements or quantities or provided any detailed prescription of work requirements.” This claim was false or misleading.

The table below provides a comparison of the fines at trial and on retrial:


Party
Trial Retrial
Bruce Brown $35,000 + 1 yr probation $4,500
Bruce A. Brown Assoc. Ltd. $126,000 $41,000
James Sinclair (client) $8,500 + 15 days in jail N/A
Sinclair Landing $32,000 N/A

    Dianne Saxe, Ontario Environmental Lawyer

Reprinted with permission from the Environmental Law and Litigation Blog.

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