UBC loses appeal on Fisheries Act convictions

BC Supreme Court upholds order to pay $1.55-million fine

The University of British Columbia has lost its appeal of convictions and heavy fines related to the dumping of chemicals into a tributary of the Fraser River.

The convictions under the Fisheries Act will carry a penalty of more than $1.5 million.

The offences occurred in September 2014 when, according to court documents, a CIMCO Refrigeration mechanic at UBC’s Thunderbird Arena discharged an ammonia-containing solution into a storm sewer that eventually drained into Blooming Ground Creek.

Acting on public complaints of an strong ammonia odour, Environment Canada investigators collected water samples from a ditch leading to the creek that contained ammonia concentrations exceeding amounts toxic to fish by 304 times.

In the following two days 70 dead fish were found in the creek.

READ MORE: UBC fined for releasing chemicals into Fraser River tributary

Following a 15-day trial in 2018 CIMCO pleaded guilty to depositing a deleterious substance into waters frequented by fish, and was fined $800,000.

Because the arena’s chief engineer was present during the discharge, the university was also culpable. UBC was convicted on two of four charges under the Fisheries Act, including a failure to notify officials of the occurrence, with a combined fine of $1.55 million.

UBC lawyers appealed the conviction on the grounds of circumstantial evidence, conceding the ammonia in the ditch originated from the school, but citing a lack of testing to prove amounts lethal to fish had leaked into the creek.

In her reasons for judgement, Madam Justice Neena Sharma upheld the trial judge’s original decision.

“UBC is correct that there was no direct evidence as to the precise concentration of ammonia in the Creek,”Sharma wrote. “Instead, the trial judge had a large amount of uncontroverted evidence as to the presence and concentration of ammonia in the ditch. Based on that evidence and common sense, the judge inferred that the ammonia entered the Creek in an amount sufficient to be deleterious to fish.”

The trial for UBC and CIMCO was originally scheduled to conclude in one month, but scheduling conflicts between the two parties and the Crown prolonged the process by more than one year. UBC’s lawyers sought a stay of proceedings under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to be tried under a reasonable amount of time but the trial judge ruled against the application, which UBC appealed.

READ MORE: Trucking company fined $175K for Lemon Creek fuel spill

The appellate court sided with the Crown’s position, stating in part that the scheduling conflict was unavoidable and could not reasonably have been remedied. The Crown also argued UBC was complacent about the delays and did not seek to expedite the proceedings.

UBC also unsuccessfully appealed the sentence, asking for a reduced fine of $350,000 on the basis they should be penalized less than CIMCO.

“The trial judge appropriately took into account factors justifying a greater sentence for UBC than for CIMCO. UBC was convicted of a more serious offense so its culpability was higher. Also, CIMCO pleaded guilty and agreed to a joint submission, which conserved public resources,” Sharma wrote.

“Ammonia is a well-known noxious substance and an enormous amount was discharged into the storm sewer. UBC knew of the importance of pollution prevention into storm sewers and could not explain why it had not extended its own policies to the arena. The pollution was so extreme that people passing by the watercourse immediately noticed its impact on the air, and many fish died.

The Crown originally sought fines totalling $3 million against UBC.



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Family Farm Day in the Alberni Valley goes virtual

Take part in a scavenger hunt for a chance to win a gift basket

LOOK BACK: Port Alberni’s first clocktower

Take a peek at Port Alberni’s history with the Alberni Valley Museum

QUINN’S QUIPS: Reconciliation is only as strong as its partnerships

Bamfield Road deal is an ideal example of the province working with First Nations

ARTS AROUND: Last chance to view First Nations art exhibit in Port Alberni

‘Together’ runs at Rollin Art Centre until the end of September

Record-breaking 165 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in B.C. in 24-hour period

Fifty-seven people are in hospital battling the novel coronavirus

Long-term care need pressuring acute care in Comox Valley, Strathcona

Region could use a couple of large facilities for seniors on the north part of the Island

B.C.’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan: Top 5 things you need to know

Jobs training, tax incentives for employers to hire staff and more

March to protect old growth, stop industrial logging coming to B.C. Legislature

Organizers say they want to give frontline communities a bigger say in nearby logging

B.C. releases details of $1.5B economic recovery plan, $660M in business tax incentives

Economic plan includes support for employers, as well as training for workers

‘Not criminally responsible’ hearing slated for man convicted of Abbotsford school stabbing

Gabriel Klein was found guilty in March of killing Letisha Reimer, 13, in 2016

Most Read