In 2013 a jet fuel truck operated by Executive Flight Centre plunged off a road in the Slocan Valley, crashing into pristine Lemon Creek and dumping 33,000 litres into the river, compromising drinking water and killing fish.
The BC government investigated, and concluded that no charges were warranted. The case would have been closed if it weren’t for the efforts of Marilyn Burgoon, a resident of the Slocan Valley.
When the province wouldn’t act, Marilyn laid her own charges – with a little help from West Coast Environmental Law’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund.
Marilyn and her legal team – Lilina Lysenko and Jeff Jones – laid charges under the Fisheries Act against Executive Flight Centre and the BC government, and convinced a BC provincial court judge to issue the charges and order the defendants to respond. After the provincial court approved Marilyn’s charges, West Coast helped her develop an online strategy to ask the Canadian government to take over the charges.
Thousands of British Columbians used an online tool at DefendBC.ca to write to the federal government, urging them to take over the case. And those voices resulted in action!
In July 2016, a prosecutor appointed by the federal government laid new charges against both Executive Flight Centre and the BC Government.
The charges included two counts of “depositing a deleterious substance in a water frequented by fish” under the Fisheries Act. The defendants were also charged with six counts of “introducing waste into a stream causing pollution” under the Environmental Management Act.
The Lemon Creek charges are proof that private prosecutions can be an important tool in defending the environment. But in an ideal world, the government – not private citizens – should be enforcing environmental laws.
In recent years, we’ve seen significant drops in environmental charges being laid at both the federal and provincial (BC) levels. And this isn’t because there’s no serious environmental harm being done – rather, the Lemon Creek example suggests that it is because governments are simply failing to enforce the law.
If the government doesn’t step up to the plate, citizens will increasingly consider turning to private prosecutions to demand accountability for environmental damage. Marilyn and her lawyers have shown us that a determined individual acting on behalf of her community can make it happen.