Irving pollution fine will not go to Irving nonprofit

CBC NEWS - New Brunswick

Irving pollution fine will not go to Irving nonprofit

Penalty will instead be paid to UNB's Canadian Rivers Institute

Connell Smith CBC News Posted: Nov 05, 2018 9:11 PM AT

Lawyers for the Crown and defence have backed away from a controversial joint recommendation in a pollution case involving Irving Pulp and Paper.

The revised deal accepted Monday by Judge David Walker will see $1.1 million in penalties directed to the Canadian Rivers Institute.

Under the original proposal, the fine would have been paid to CAST, a non-profit company co-created and chaired by Jim Irving.

Irving is co-CEO of Irving Pulp and Paper's parent company, a fact that led to claims there would be at least a perception of conflict of interest if the fine, meant to be punitive, was directed to an organization controlled and funded by Irving.

A further $2.4 million in penalties will be forwarded to the federal environmental damages fund for use on St. John river projects.

Irving Pulp and Paper will be added to the federal Environmental Offenders Registry.  Photo Graham Chafe/ASF

Company under scrutiny

Irving Pulp and Paper will also be added to the federal Environmental Offenders Registry.

Environment Canada's acting regional director, Robert Robichaud said the company is being watched closely.

"Looking at the compliance history of Irving Pulp and Paper, they have been charged three times between 1999 and 2007," he said.

"We had 10 additional instances between 2014 and 16 and based on what we know of the company we have reasonable grounds to believe that further violations may occur in the future."

In early October a lawyer for Irving Pulp and Paper entered a guilty plea on the company's behalf to three charges of violating Canada's Fisheries Act by releasing "significant" amounts of toxins into the St. John river in a series of incidents over a two-year period ending in August 2016.

Use for money unclear

The new joint recommendation avoids a direct connection to the Irving non-profit.

"After reviewing the matter it was felt that adjusting to have the monies go to the Canadian Rivers Institute might allow for a broader range of research and projects that would accomplish the same goals that were originally recommended," said federal Crown prosecutor Paul Adams after court.

The Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI) has received funding from JD Irving and is a partner on some CAST conservation projects involving Atlantic salmon.

It is not known if the funds will be directed to CAST projects or used more broadly.

"The funds are being distributed to the University of New Brunswick to conduct scientific research on projects related to the conservation, protection and restoration of Atlantic salmon," said a statement Monday issued by David MaGee, UNB's vice-president of research.

Future stewardship

Regarding the pollution of the St. John River, Robichaud said an "inspector's direction" had been issued to the company requiring it to come up with a plan to fix the problems, and to report to Environment Canada twice yearly on progress.

He said the company has submitted a plan which has been accepted, though he would not elaborate.

Matthew Abbott, Fundy baykeeper with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick is encouraged by the federal scrutiny of the company.

"Irving Pulp and Paper have demonstrated that they need to be watched closely when it comes to pollution," said Abbott. "It's that federal enforcement capacity that lead to the charges in this case."

In a statement issued Monday evening Irving Pulp and Paper vice-president Mark Mosher said the company is "very pleased" the judge had accepted the joint recommendation.

"Dr. Allen Curry, the highly qualified research team at UNB and the Canadian Rivers Institute are active and vital contributors to wild Atlantic salmon research and conservation today," said Mosher.  "They will ensure this important work continues."

Irving Pulp and Paper initially responded to the charges by attempting to launch a constitutional challenge alleging the Acute Lethality Test used to determine the level of toxins released is not reliable.

The test places live fish in a tank of pure pulp mill effluent for 96 hours.

If more than 50 percent of the fish die, the effluent can be considered a 'deleterious substance'.

The company maintains the pollution incidents did not cause harm to fish in the wild.