In the recent case of R. v. Northland Properties Corporation, the B.C. Supreme Court upheld fines and penalties of $140,000 in connection with destruction of fish habitat as a result of work completed at a family-owned cabin on Kamloops Lake.  These fines and penalties were in addition to the $85,000 in remediation costs already incurred by the accused.  The Crown had  appealed the sentence asking for greater fines and penalties (totalling $300,000) based on the seriousness of the environmental offences. Although the B.C. Supreme Court rejected the Crown’s appeal, thereby upholding the original fines and penalties of $140,000, this case suggests that the Crown is currently very willing to seek high fines and penalties against even recreational property owners where the offence results in “serious harm to fish” (including the destruction of fish habitat).

Background

In 2010, Tom Gaglardi began redeveloping his family’s recreational property on Kamloops Lake. The plans included rebuilding the existing bungalow and adding an adjoining five bedroom bunkhouse building. To carry out this work, Gaglardi directed his crew to clear almost all of the trees on his waterfront property, thereby destroying 4200 m2of foreshore and riparian vegetation. The trial judge found that this work destroyed “a good deal of valuable salmon habitat” and stated “[d]espite the remediation undertaken by the defendants, this fish habitat will not be effectively restored for many years, if not decades to come” (at para 8).

Fines, Penalties and Remediation Costs

At trial, Gaglardi and his company were charged $140,000 in fines and penalties. This, along with the roughly $85,000 in remediation costs that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans directed Gaglardi to spend, resulted in Gaglardi paying a total of $225,000 as a result of destruction of fish habitat resulting from the works carried out at his family cabin.

The Crown appealed the trial judge’s decision, seeking even higher fines and penalties. In its review, the B.C. Supreme Court found no errors in the trial judge’s decision.  Instead the Court concluded that the fines imposed, inclusive of the costs of remediation, properly reflected the gravity of the harm caused and were “significant” enough given the statutory maximum fine in existence at the time of the offences. As such, the fines and penalties totalling $140,000 against Gaglardi and his company were upheld.

Although the Crown lost on appeal, this decision reflects a willingness by the Crown to seek substantial fines in cases where there has been unauthorized permanent alteration or destruction of fish habitat.  Since the date of the offences committed by Northland Properties Corporation, maximum fines for summary convictions under the Fisheries Act have increased for individuals from $300,000 to $600,000 (for a second or subsequent offence) and in the case of corporations, from $300,000 to $8,000,000 (for a second or subsequent offence).  The willingness of the Crown to seek substantial fines, and the increase in maximum fines, highlights how important it is that all persons planning to carry out works in or around fish habitat ensure that they abide to the law to avoid significant fines and penalties.