The Ontario Court of Justice has determined there are “reasonable and probable grounds” to believe environmental offences have been committed by Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, ministry staff and three industrial wind companies in Chatham-Kent.
According to court documents, the charges come from the Environmental Protection Act.
Eric Gillespie, a Toronto-based lawyer, represents complainants who have been experiencing problems with their water wells.
“When somebody believes there has been an offence committed, they can go directly to the courts,” said Gillespie. “One local resident went last week before a justice of the peace, who heard information and formed the opinion that there were grounds to believe offences had been committed.”
One witness called to court is Christine Burke, who spoke to CBC in February 2018 about the problems with her water well.
Burke was not permitted to speak to CBC now that she’s named as a witness in the court proceedings.
As a result, the summons to appear in court were issued to the Ministry of Environment, the minister of the environment and the three companies.
According to court documents and Gillespie, the charges are for ongoing actions since 2017.
In one, Jeff Yurek, minister of the environment, is named as failing to “take all reasonable care to prevent the installation and operation of the wind turbines at East Lake St. Clair Wind Farm, run by Engie Canada and at the North Kent 1 Wind Farm run by Pattern Energy Group and Samsung Renewable Energy from discharging or causing or permitting the discharge of contaminants.”
Those contaminants include black shale and potentially hazardous metals.
Gillespie said should the defendants be found or plead guilty, penalties range from financial fines up to $100,000 or periods of incarceration.
“The court also has many other options available to it in terms of the types of orders,” said Gillespie, who believes these charges are the first of their nature.
CBC News reached out to the companies and the ministry of the environment but did not receive responses.
Yurek’s press secretary issued a statement on his behalf, declining to comment “as this matter is before the courts.”
The companies and the ministry will appear in court in Blenheim on August 14.
The municipality of Chatham-Kent has said they will “not be making comments on the issue as the matter is before the courts.”
The court’s determination comes roughly one week after Ontario labour minister – and Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP —- Monte McNaughton announced an independent investigation into Chatham-Kent’s water supply.
An independent investigation into the municipality’s water supply was a long-held goal for Water Wells First, a citizens’ group that formed as a result of concerns over water quality in the region.
Jessica Brooks, a spokesperson for Water Wells First, said she was excited by the court’s decision, adding she was nonetheless surprised by the news.
“This was some other members that had gone ahead,” said Brooks. “We were looking at other legal matters, but it’s nice to know that everybody’s working together on this issue.”
Brooks added she’s not sure how the court’s recent decision will affect the recently announced investigation.
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