The Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks (MSDEP), Ms. Line Beauchamp, introduced a Bill (Bill n°89: An Act to amend the Environment Quality Act in order to reinforce compliance) before the National Assembly to further reinforce compliance with the Environment Quality Act (EQA). Various proposed measures set forth in the Bill will expedite the sanctioning of polluters and ensure that they are sanctioned in a manner proportional to the seriousness of their infraction. The majority of the modifications are found in the newly-created sections 115.2 to 115.49 EQA.
The Bill provides that a functionary will be able to impose administrative penalties on those who fail to comply with the EQA, which will accelerate the sanctioning process. The administrative penalty amounts to $2,000 for a natural person and $10,000 for a legal person. If the penalty remains unpaid 30 days after notification, the amount owed bears interest at a rate determined by government regulation. It is of note that the imposition of an administrative penalty does not preclude penal proceedings from being instituted against the same party based on the contravention of the same provision and on the basis of the same facts.
A person who has received a notice with regard to such an administrative penalty may apply to the MSDEP for a review of the decision within 30 days after notification. If the administrative penalty is not paid at the expiry of the time for applying for a review of the decision, the MSDEP may issue a recovery certificate. Penalties, along with costs incurred by and interest owing to the MSDEP, may be claimed from the directors or officers of a legal person who is in default of payment.
The decision of the MSDEP, reviewing their decision to impose an administrative penalty, may itself be contested before the Administrative Tribunal of Québec (ATQ).
Québec also aims to reinforce their penal sanctions, by introducing provisions such as an increase in the amount of fines that tribunals will be able to impose on polluters. Additionally, new categories of fines will better reflect the nature and seriousness of infractions. For example, the maximum fine that could be imposed on a legal person who emits a prohibited contaminant into the environment will be raised from $250,000 to $6M. In the case of an individual, he or she will be liable for a maximum fine of $1M and/or a maximum term of imprisonment of three years; fines are doubled for a second offence and tripled for a subsequent offence, with the maximum term of imprisonment being five years less a day for second of subsequent offences.
It is important to note that when an infraction is committed by a director or an officer of a legal person, partnership or association, the minimum and maximum amounts for fines for natural persons are doubled.
Furthermore, the Bill lists aggravating factors that a judge may take into consideration when determining the penalty. Such aggravating factors include: the seriousness of the damage to human health or the environment; the particular nature of the environment affected; the intentional, negligent or reckless nature of the offence; the cost to society of repairing the harm, and the behaviour of the offender after committing the offence.
A final note is that the Bill proposes to change other sections of the EQA as well, such as those pertaining to the renewal of permits relating to the elimination of hazardous materials, the orders that the MSDEP may issue and the process leading up to a review by the ATQ with regard to such orders, the powers of inspectors, and the costs that the MSDEP may claim from an offender.
The text of the Bill is available on the website of the National Assembly (click here).