Syncrude convicted on environmental charges

June 28, 2010

Syncrude was convicted in Alberta Provincial Court on June 25 on charges of failing to prevent a toxic substance from harming wildlife (a provincial charge under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act) and depositing a substance harmful to migratory birds (a federal charge under the Migratory Birds Convention Act).

Syncrude’s defence had been primarily based on due diligence - arguing that it had taken reasonable care to prevent the unlawful act.

The court found that, while a defence of due diligence was available on these charges, the court found that Syncrude had not acted with due diligence:

Syncrude could not "ensure" that waterfowl did not land on the Aurora Settling Basin on April 28, 2008 but it had a reasonable legal alternative. I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt that Syncrude could have acted lawfully by using due diligence to deter birds from the Basin, whether or not it was successful in its attempts at deterrence, and it did not do so.

With respect to the deployment of deterrence systems available to prevent ducks from landing on Syncrude’s pond, the Court found that:

The evidence convinces me beyond reasonable doubt that Syncrude placed itself in a position where it was unable to take reasonable steps to deter birds from the Aurora Settling Basin on April 28, 2008. It could have set up its system to place deterrents sooner and more quickly, regardless of the weather that arrived in April of 2008. It was reasonable to take those precautions and Syncrude did not.  It could have set up its system to place deterrents sooner and more quickly, regardless of the weather that arrived in April of 2008. It was reasonable to take those precautions and Syncrude did not.

Other defences raised by Syncrude (including that it would have been impossible for it to ensure that ducks would not land in the ponds, act of God, abuse of process and officially induced error were all rejected by the Court. .

The matter will resume on August 20th with arguments as to whether convictions should be entered on one or both charges, and for sentencing arguments.

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