Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee.
Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be here.
My name is Margaret Meroni, and I'm the chief enforcement officer at Environment and Climate Change Canada.
I'm here today with my colleagues Heather McCready, the director general of the environmental enforcement directorate; and Linda Tingley, senior counsel from the Department of the Environment.
I am glad the committee has expressed interest in enforcement matters as part of its review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act 1999, or CEPA.
We are pleased to speak to you this afternoon to explain our mandate and operations as well as our activities as they relate to the enforcement of CEPA.
Strong and effective enforcement of Canada's environmental and wildlife protection laws is integral to our commitment to clean air, clean water, and the conservation of wildlife species and their habitat.
I will start with a brief overview of our branch operations to provide some context, and will then explain the role and functions of environmental enforcement officers.
The enforcement branch was consolidated as an independent branch at Environment and Climate Change Canada 10 years ago with a chief enforcement officer as the head of the branch, reporting to the deputy minister of Environment Canada and bringing together wildlife and environmental protection in a merged organization.
When the branch was created, we were able to gather employees dispersed across the department and integrate them into the new branch. In 2005, the newly formed enforcement branch had about 240 employees.
Once established, the branch was further stabilized when budget 2007 and budget 2008 provided us with funding to increase the number of officers. Today we have about 375 employees, approximately 280 of whom are uniformed officers. Of those officers, 85 are designated to enforce federal wildlife legislation, and the remainder enforce CEPA and the pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act.
The branch has two operational directorates: the wildlife enforcement program and the environmental enforcement program. The wildlife program administers four wildlife acts, including enforcement of 147 protected areas, which is worth mentioning, given that the committee is also studying protected areas. The environmental enforcement program administers CEPA and the pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act, the former being the focus for today.
With the establishment and growth of the branch, we developed a comprehensive training program for our enforcement officers as well as a suite of policies and protocols to guide their decision-making.
We have continued to adapt our operations as new regulations come into force and as our mandate and the suite of enforcement tools continue to evolve. Enforcement officers administer various acts and associated regulations, either in whole or in part, that deal with risks to the environment and its biodiversity.
A significant impact to our operations occurred with the coming into force of the Environmental Enforcement Act, EEA, in 2010. The EEA set out to strengthen and harmonize enforcement regimes across the many acts under our responsibility. It further enhanced the fine regime with the introduction of mandatory minimum fines and increased maximum fines for serious environmental offences.
The EEA enables tougher enforcement to hold offenders accountable for their actions, and it requires the court to increase the fine imposed on an offender to account for damage to the environment or to a valuable or unique component of the environment. The amendments brought about by the EEA also introduced the concepts of loss-of-use and non-use value for the purposes of assessment of damages by the court, which allows the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, the PPSC, to introduce evidence of environmental damage and economic benefit as aggravating factors when they take cases to court. The EEA also introduced a common set of sentencing principles, helping to ensure consistency in how environmental law is applied across the country.
The EEA is being implemented in phases. With the coming into force of the Environmental Violations Administrative Monetary Penalties Act, EVAMPA, we have gained another tool in being able to use administrative monetary penalties or AMPs. We now await implementation of the AMPs regime to begin using this tool. It is anticipated that the environmental violations administrative monetary penalties regulations will come into force sometime in 2017.
When the administrative penalties do come into force, we will have an additional tool to address non-compliance under CEPA.
We will then be able to assess an administrative penalty instead of pursuing prosecution, depending on the circumstances of each offence.
As for linking the legislative authorities and how an enforcement officer functions in the field, I'd like to explain the principal activities and decision-making of an officer.
Our enforcement officers are empowered to take specific actions under the laws they enforce, and CEPA provides our officers with all the powers of a peace officer. Under CEPA, they are authorized to carry out inspections to verify compliance with the law; they can direct that corrective measures be taken when there is danger to the environment, human life, or health caused when the illegal release of a regulated substance has occurred or is about to occur; and they can conduct investigations of suspected violations. Our officers also have the power to arrest, to seize, and to apply to a judge to issue them a search warrant.
In addition to these powers, enforcement officers have a choice of enforcement actions available, depending on the nature and severity of the non-compliance. These actions include issuing warnings, issuing directions in the event of a release, issuing tickets, issuing detention orders for ships, and issuing environmental protection compliance orders, or what we call EPCOs.
Finally, our officers have discretion to lay charges, and the decision is generally made with the approval of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, the PPSC. Once charges are laid, the PPSC assumes full control over the proceedings. An investigation can be terminated with charges stayed or withdrawn at this stage. Officers commonly consult the PPSC before taking the step of laying charges in a specific case. As a matter of fact, in certain provinces—New Brunswick, Quebec and British Columbia—it is mandatory for officers to obtain pre-charge approval.
It is important to note that while officers may make recommendations, the decisions respecting the prosecution of charges and the size and nature of the penalty sought through the court proceedings are at the sole discretion of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.
As for the other enforcement actions I mentioned, our enforcement officers, as is generally the case with those possessing peace officer powers, are independent in choosing among these options to address non-compliance. They may consult for advice, but they are the ones who ultimately make the decision.
Officers are, however, guided by our compliance and enforcement policies, which are public, to assist them with the general principles that govern the application of our laws. These policies provide our officers guidance in the exercise of their discretion. Through adherence to these policies, our officers apply the act in a manner that is fair, predictable, and consistent, meaning we strive for fairness and equity in how we apply the law across Canada.
Our focus is on suppression—that is, deterrence achieved through the risk of unscheduled inspections—prevention of damage to the environment, and compliance with the act within the shortest time possible. This is worth noting as our focus is not only on ensuring that the law is complied with but also on ensuring that the environment is protected and that damage to it is minimized while an incident is occurring.
Our goal is to secure compliance in the most efficient and sustainable way possible, ideally before significant damage is done. We may need the full force of the law to accomplish this objective, or we may be able to get there in other ways. It is often the case that a simple warning will be sufficient to bring non-compliant entities into compliance.
In 2015-16, we conducted approximately 4,000 CEPA inspections, which covered over 3,000 infractions. In roughly half of these incidents, a written warning was sufficient to bring the regulatee into compliance. While this isn't headline-grabbing news, it is an effective use of our resources and has allowed us to bring a significant number of offenders into compliance before serious damage could be done, in a manner consistent with the principles outlined in CEPA and our compliance-and-enforcement policy.
As you may appreciate, there is almost an equal divide between how much of our work is done proactively, and how much is responsive.
Responsive inspections are driven by received complaints from the public, referrals from provincial partners and other entities, and incidents such as pipeline breaks, train derailments or at times self-reported by industry.
The same officers who enforce CEPA are also designated to enforce the pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act. Indeed, about half of the almost 7,000 inspections we conducted under CEPA and the Fisheries Act last year, the 2015-16 fiscal year, were responsive in nature.
We ensure that we manage our resources to enable us to respond appropriately. Proactive work is essentially planned inspection activity predicated on risk-based planning and informed through intelligence that establishes national and regional priorities and projects. We take into account a series of factors, such as the risk to the environment and human health represented by the regulated substance or activity, compliance issues in a specific community, new and amended regulations, government and departmental priorities, and domestic and international commitments and obligations.
We focus our efforts strategically, given that there are tens of thousands of regulated entities across Canada. This means that in any given year we can only address a certain representation of the regulated community. We target our actions on areas with the highest likelihood of non-compliance and where non-compliance leads to the greatest risk of environmental harm and threat to human health.
In terms of results, last year, which was fiscal year 2015-2016, in addition to the 4,000 inspections we conducted, we opened 54 investigations under CEPA and obtained 24 convictions. Eighteen of those convictions came from our planned work. This marks a year-on-year increase in the number of convictions obtained since 2011-2012, when only ten were registered. There has also been a roughly ten-fold increase in the size of the overall fines handed down by the courts during this same period, from about $100,000 in total in 2011-2012, to over $1.1 million in 2015-2016.
However, I want to stress that enforcement results cannot and should not be measured solely by numbers. Court cases, regardless of the amount of the penalty obtained, certainly do provide a general deterrence for regulatees; however, our presence in a specific regulated community also yields results. That is hard to quantify but is definitely effective.
With that, I will conclude my statement. We would welcome any questions you may have.
Thank you all.