Judge says sentence for Brookfield Gardens in fish kill case more than just cost of doing business
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - A P.E.I. farm charged in connection with a 2014 fish kill was fined $15,000 in provincial court Wednesday.
A representative for Brookfield Gardens Inc. appeared before Judge John Douglas to hear the sentence after the company was charged and later found guilty of permitting the deposit of a deleterious substance in water frequented by fish.
The fine Douglas ordered was far below the $175,000 to $200,000 range the Crown suggested but was higher than the $5,000 recommendation from the defence.
In giving his reasons, Douglas said he was satisfied the fine was much more than just the cost of doing business or a licensing fee.
During the investigation in 2014, more than 1,100 dead fish were collected in a 3.8-kilometre section of the North River after a heavy rain.
Brookfield Gardens was successful in its first trial, with Chief Judge Nancy Orr finding the company took reasonable precautions to prevent run-off getting into the river from a carrot field it was leasing.
A new trial was ordered after the Crown appealed, and Douglas later found the company guilty.
On Wednesday, Douglas said Brookfield Gardens was a well-respected farming operation and the fish kill was an isolated incident for the company.
Douglas said that although he found Brookfield Gardens hadn’t made out a due diligence defence, it wasn’t a case of the owners putting profit before environmental concerns.
Deterrence was a factor Douglas considered when determining an appropriate sentence, and he said he didn’t feel specific deterrence was a significant factor for Brookfield Gardens.
If going through four separate court proceedings involving six judges over four years with the associated cost and personal toll it took wasn’t enough to deter the company, then nothing short of forcing the company out of business would, Douglas said.
Douglas also said the case received a lot of media coverage and it was unlikely anyone in the farming community wasn’t aware of it.
The costs associated with the case would be crippling for most, Douglas said.
Although there is a minimum fine of $25,000 for a first offence under the Fisheries Act, a judge does have the ability to impose a lesser amount if they are satisfied the minimum would cause undue financial hardship.
Douglas reviewed financial statements for Brookfield Gardens that showed it had net incomes in some years and net farming losses in others, along with a high level of debt.
He said he was satisfied that imposing the minimum fine of $25,000 would cause undue hardship.
Considering all the factors in the case, Douglas said the $15,000 fine provided the necessary denunciatory message and addressed all applicable principles of sentencing.