Environment featured

A small step, but a very important step — Judge gives go ahead to Harrietsfield private prosecution

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Marlene Brown has been fighting to bring safe drinking water to the rural community of Harrietsfield for nearly ten years, to no avail.

On April 26, 2017, in her continued efforts to get the site cleaned up, Brown laid charges against those responsible for the contamination.  

It is the first time private prosecution has been used to enforce environmental laws in Nova Scotia. The Department of Environment has never charged the polluter and Brown felt she had no other option.

L-R: Lisa Mitchell, executive director of ECELAW, Marlene Brown and Jamie Simpson of Juniper Law. (Photo provided by ECELAW)

The area’s groundwater, which supplies the residents’ well water, was contaminated by activities at a now defunct recycling facility in Harrietsfield between the years of 2002 and 2013. These activities include things such as illegally stockpiling construction and demolition waste materials for extended periods, which led to toxic chemicals leaking into the ground, thereby infiltrating the area’s water supply.

On May 18, 2017, after hearing a testimony by Brown and two Nova Scotia Environment employees, a provincial judge agreed that the basis for Brown’s charges were valid, and that the case can proceed to trial, says Jamie Simpson, who is representing Brown along with Lisa Mitchell of East Coast Environmental Law (ECELAW).

“It’s a small step along the way, but a very important step,” Simpson says.

A formal summons has been issued to 3076525 Nova Scotia Limited (307) and “service is being undertaken for 3012334 Nova Scotia Limited and the individual Roy Brown,” according to ECELAW. Roy Brown was the company owner of the latter, the original company that went by RDM Recycling, along with Michael Lawrence, until the owners of 307 bought all their assets, began leasing the property from them and took over the RDM name in 2005.

The accused have been asked to come to court on June 13, 2017, where scheduling of the next steps will take place, Simpson says.

Brown says she was relieved as soon as she heard that the judge’s decision was in her favour.

“I feel we are being heard,” she says. “I am remaining optimistic.”

Brown is alleging that the parties in question violated the Environment Act in two ways: first, by failing to prevent the release of harmful substances into the environment; and second, for not being compliant with the terms of the ministerial orders that have been issued to them.

Two ministerial orders were issued to all of the parties mentioned—one in 2010 and another in 2016—yet the terms of those orders were never fully complied with, and are still not being complied with to this day. For example, there is still no monitoring of residents’ well water as one of the terms of the order requires, which is of great concern to Brown who is stuck living with contaminated well water. Without the ongoing testing, she and others who were once part of the monitoring program don’t know exactly what contaminants are in their water.

Court documents indicate the Department of Environment has known about the severity of the environmental contamination in Harrietsfield, as well as the health risks this subjects residents to, for more than a decade. Despite this, no formal charges have been laid by the Department against the noncompliant parties.

Simpson says that the province has decided not to formally participate in this private prosecution, but representatives of the Department of Environment were present at the hearing on May 18. Simpson explains that they “can always step in at any time.”

“It’s open to them to step in and take it over, or put a stop to it,” Simpson says, adding that he’d be surprised if the province stepped in to stop it from going forward, especially after the judge agreed that “there’s something that needs to be taken to trial here.”

Brown says her underlying motive in doing all this is to “obtain justice for all those who have to deal with this nightmare.”

Requests for comments by Roy Brown and Robert Grant, a lawyer linked to 307, were not returned at the time of publication This story will be updated when we receive their response.

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  1. it is commendable that legal action is being taken and reprehensible that our government sits on their hands

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