CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - When Brookfield Gardens Inc. went to court Tuesday for sentencing in a fish kill case, more than 40 people were there with the company to show support.
P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture president David Mol said the law Brookfield Gardens was convicted of breaking states the company and other farmers need to guarantee no harm will come to the environment, even in the event of a severe rain storm.
“This is simply unrealistic and unfair,” he said after court proceedings ended Tuesday.
Following an investigation in 2014, Brookfield Gardens was charged with permitting the deposit of a deleterious substance in water frequented by fish.
More than 1,100 dead fish were collected in a 3.8-kilometre section of the North River after a heavy rain.
Initially, Chief Judge Nancy Orr found Brookfield Gardens took reasonable precautions to prevent run-off getting into the river from a carrot field it was leasing.
That decision was overturned on appeal, and Judge John Douglas later found the company guilty.
During the trial, the court heard Brookfield Gardens had a good reputation for environmental stewardship, including receiving an award for it in 2012.
Mol said there is nothing wrong with the government or the courts taking action on fish kills, but there are a lot of other reasons for them besides farming.
“It’s just tragic,” he said.
Speaking to the group of farmers gathered outside the courthouse, Mol said the federation doesn’t believe Brookfield Gardens showed reckless disregard for the environment.
Mol said the federation wants the public and government to see that farmers aren’t criminals.
“In fact, we appeal to you that the opposite is true,” he said.
The government spent four years getting a conviction against Brookfield Gardens with the original judge’s decision overturned, Mol said, and he asked if the standard changed.
“If so, how do farmers know they are taking the proper precautions.”
Mol said the federation is proposing a task force involving the industry and the federal and provincial governments to look at how to protect farming and farmers to keep them out of court.
Eddy Dykerman, a partner in Brookfield Gardens, waited outside while speakers from the federation, the P.E.I. Horticultural Association and the Kensington North Watersheds Association addressed the crowd.
Dykerman said it felt good to have the support.
“I think it’s everybody’s responsibility to try to work out a system, so these incidents don’t happen anymore,” he said.
Dykerman said it has been hard to keep his mind on the farm while thinking about the court case.
“It’s been trying.”
Brookfield Gardens will be back in court Dec. 12 to hear how much it will be fined.
When it comes to the fines suggested in a fish kill case on Tuesday, the Crown and defence were more than $170,000 apart.
Brookfield Gardens Inc. was back in provincial court in Charlottetown Tuesday before Judge John Douglas for sentencing after he previously found the company guilty of permitting the deposit of a deleterious substance in water frequented by fish.
During the sentencing submissions, the Crown argued Brookfield Gardens should get a fine in the range of $175,000 to $200,000.
Brookfield Gardens had a very high degree of culpability, the Crown said.
The charge related to an investigation in August 2014 when more than 1,100 dead fish were found in the North River.
On Tuesday, the defence argued a fine in the range the Crown was asking for would cause the company financial hardship and “cripple the organization”.
The defence said Brookfield Gardens didn’t do anything intentional, and the intensity of the rain that led to the fish kill was something beyond its control.
A $5,000 fine would be appropriate, the defence said.
Douglas adjourned the matter until Dec. 12