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Polluters must pay in Canada.

In a ruling this past fall, the Supreme Court of Canada backed the so-called "polluter pays" principle that is found in almost every environmental law across the country, saying a healthy environment must be preserved now and for future generations.

The court was ruling in a case where Quebec's environment ministry had ordered Imperial Oil to pay for the cleanup of a fuel depot it had owned near Quebec City for more than 50 years, even after the land had been sold and later flipped to developers. The high court rejected arguments by Imperial Oil that governments are in a potential conflict where cleanup orders shield their own treasuries from costs.

"The Quebec legislation reflects the growing concern on the part of legislatures and of society about the safeguarding of the environment ... and the living species inhabiting it," wrote Justice Louis LeBel. The Quebec law and others like it signal an emerging sense "of an environmental debt to humanity and to the world of tomorrow" and give ministers broad powers to act in the public interest, the court found.

The unanimous ruling is being hailed as a huge victory by environmental groups, who say it has implications across Canada.

"This is a major victory for the polluter pays principle," says Sierra Legal Defence Fund counsel Robert Wright.

Sierra Legal managing lawyer Jerry DeMarco adds, "The court has reinforced the importance of ensuring that polluters, and not the community, bear the full cost of cleaning up contaminated brownfield sites like the one in Levis, Quebec."

On behalf of Friends of the Earth Canada (FOE), Sierra Legal Defence Fund intervened in the case in support of the Quebec Minister of Environment.

"This decision will affect how the more than 30,000 contaminated sites in Canada will be dealt with," says Beatrice Olivastri, Chief Executive Officer of FOE.

The court said polluters bear "the responsibility for remedying contamination for which they are responsible" and must assume the direct and immediate costs of pollution. They must also "pay more attention to the need to protect ecosystems in the course of their economic activities."

Olivastri says that means commercial and industrial polluters, and governments as well, must heed their duties to safeguard the environment.

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Title Annotation:News: dispatches from around the world about healthy, sustainable living
Publication:Natural Life
Geographic Code:1CQUE
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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