Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Ross Howard, David Israelson, Michael Keating

Environmental Journalists

By Ross Howard, David Israelson, Michael Keating
As designated environmental reporters in the 1970s and 80s, Howard, Israelson and Keating played a critical role in conveying information gathered from academics, scientists, governments and non-governmental organizations to the public.

The Journalists

Of all information sources, newspapers have traditionally been the most influential. Their high profile stories coming out early in the day are picked up by radio, television and now Internet news sites.   Because of this, they often set the agenda for public and political debates.  In the 1970s, rising public interest in environmental issues prompted editors at Canada’s major newspapers and later at some broadcast outlets to create an environmental “beat” on a par with health or education, and reporters were directed to track down and report on the most exciting and often alarming developments in this field. At the Toronto Star where he worked from 1975 to 1984, Ross Howard became one of Canada’s first environment reporters..  For Howard, it was an “amazing time” of transition when pollution was becoming a serious subject of scientific study and public concern rather than simply a series of unconnected stories about irritants like litter and trash, and he specialized in writing about environmental issues for eight years of his journalistic career.  When Howard gave up his post in 1984, David Israelson, who worked at the Star from 1983 to 1998, succeeded him, beginning in 1985.  Similarly, the Globe and Mail, in response to the high level of public interest, had its own dedicated environmental reporter, Michael Keating, an experienced journalist who covered these issues for the Globe from 1979 to 1988. The Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail were then, and still are, among the most widely read newspapers in Canada.  While the Globe sees itself as the authoritative voice of Canadian journalism with a national reach and a political-economic focus, the Star with the highest circulation of any paper in Canada, has long pursued a populist middle-class stance and more aggressive reporting towards selected issues.

Breaking Environmental News

As designated environmental reporters in the 1970s and 80s, Howard, Israelson and Keating played a critical role in conveying information gathered from academics, scientists, governments and non-governmental organizations to the public.   Reports, lawsuits, lobbying campaigns, commissions, government announcements, the results of scientific studies and leaked documents all provided breaking news, and the level of public interest was high. In following professional standards of accuracy, fairness and balance, these reporters had to weigh claims and counter-claims made by emerging groups and individuals who wanted their environmental issues covered by the press.  The journalists also had to try to assess the risks of pollution problems to public health and the environment, recognizing that in a time of heightened public interest and concern their reporting could influence significantly how issues were perceived and managed. Although none of the three reporters in this session were trained as scientists, their on-the-job education gave them a rich understanding of the science behind environmental issues – the consequences of air and water pollution, the risks of chemicals to human health, or the effects of long-range transportation of acid-rain causing emissions on prized areas such as Muskoka Lakes.  During the period when they were writing, many “brave” scientists, as Howard calls them, both inside and outside federal and provincial governments, took the time to explain the complex science behind these issues both on and off the record.   This investment in educating reporters was reflected in the high level of sophistication found in news stories about acid rain, dioxin contamination of the Great Lakes and other headline environmental issues of the day.

The Political Hot Seat

Environmental news began to regularly command front page headlines and extensive explanatory stories.  With the support of their editors, the three journalists kept environmental issues at the forefront of public awareness, which considerably influenced a sea change in public attitudes:  where pollution had once been regarded as the cost of doing business and considered a fair trade-off for economic benefits, a better-informed public became attentive to exposures and risks and losses and consequences and began to demand greater corporate responsibility and government action. The environment became a political hot potato.  Almost daily the Ontario Minister of Environment had to be prepared to answer to the press, the public and the provincial Legislature every time a story broke, and the heat proved too warm for many of them. As Keating pointed out in one of his many front page stories, there was a turnover of five Environment Ministers in seven years in Ontario during the years of Progressive Conservative governments.  The heat was almost unrelenting but its sources were as diverse as the global environment itself -- an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine, the chemical leak at Union Carbide in Bhopal, India, a radioactive spill from the Pickering nuclear plant, the discovery of dioxin in herring gull eggs taken from the Great Lakes or maple trees believed to be dying from acidified rain. As the media continued to highlight these stories, the public mood gradually changed from concern to alarm.  The Ontario government realized that the environment was more than an engineering problem and began to assert higher protective and preventative standards.  Tougher legislation that required greater corporate accountability and costs was directed at specific environmental problems such as acid rain. Enforcement was strengthened to ensure that companies controlled their spills and emissions more effectively. By putting environmental issues on the front page and making them a frequent subject for editorial comment, water-cooler conversation and protest, environmental journalists were instrumental in changing public perceptions of pollution by the early 1980s.  These journalists kept the issues high in opinion polls, instigated wide-ranging policy debates and ensured a new degree of political accountability for the state of the environment.  
Robert Paehlke, Doug Macdonald and Mark Winfield

Environmental Historians Talk About Ontario’s Environmental History

By Robert Paehlke, Doug Macdonald and Mark Winfield
In this session, Bob, Doug and Mark discuss the political upheavals in Ontario and the influence of environmental activism on governments of different political stripes.

Robert Paehlke, Doug Macdonald and Mark Winfield have all been well-placed observers of, and sometime participants in, Ontario’s environmental history.  As educators, they have taught and written about the events and the policies that have shaped Ontario’s environmental path.  As well, working for or in association with non-governmental organizations, they have themselves influenced the province’s decision-making process. Robert (Bob) Paehlke is a professor emeritus of Trent University, where in the 1960s as one of a newly-minted group of environmental professors, he taught environment and politics and continued to do so for more than 35 years.  In 1971, he founded Canada’s premier environmental magazine, Alternatives, which has been an invaluable source of scientific information and policy discussion ever since.   He is also the author of numerous publications on environmental issues including his most recent book, Some Like It Cold: The Politics of Climate Change in Canada.  Doug Macdonald has taught environmental policy at the University of Toronto (U of T) for several years as a Senior Lecturer in the School of the Environment.  Before coming to U of T, he was the Director of the Canadian Environmental Law Research Foundation from 1982 to 1988, which was renamed the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy (CIELAP) but is now defunct.  He has also written extensively on the need for a strong environmental assessment process in Ontario. Mark Winfield is an associate Professor at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, the first environmental program in Canada.  He specializes in environmental policy, sustainable energy and urban sustainability.  Before coming to York, he was Program Director at The Pembina Institute from 2001 to 2007, and before that Director of Research for CIELAP.  In 2012, his book, Blue-Green Province: The Environment and the Political Economy of Ontario, examining the relationship between environmental policy and the politics and economy of the province, was released. In this session, Bob, Doug and Mark discuss the political upheavals in Ontario and the influence of environmental activism on governments of different political stripes.  

The Conservative Years and the Response to Environmental Concerns

In the late 1960s when environmental activism began, Bob Paehlke recalls small groups popping up in every city and town in Canada, and even a minor protest could attract publicity.   Then, during the 1970s and early 80s at the same time the environmental movement was gaining strength, the Conservative Party was enjoying a long uninterrupted run of governing the province.  The government under Premier Bill Davis responded to growing environmental concerns by establishing the Ministry of Environment in 1971.  This was accomplished by piecing together institutions such as the Ontario Water Resources Commission and departments from other Ministries that had responsibility for air, water or land.  Also in 1971, Davis broke with the institutional model and, in an act of goodwill towards the nascent environmental momentum and the Stop Spadina Save Our City campaign, cancelled plans for the Spadina Expressway.  Spadina was one of six expressways intended to bring suburban commuters to their jobs in downtown Toronto that would have meant the destruction of thousands of homes in the heart of the City. One of the boldest initiatives, though, of the Davis government was the introduction and passage of the Environmental Assessment (EA) Act, which established an innovative planning process for public projects.  It was intended to provide for “an integrated consideration at an early stage of the entire complex of environmental effects which might be generated.” It was passed by the Ontario Legislature in 1975 and proclaimed in force in 1976.  According to Mark Winfield, the EA Act transformed the Ministry of Environment from a Ministry concerned about pollution and garbage to a Ministry that could pass judgment on the desirability of projects proposed by other Ministries and government agencies such as Ontario Hydro.  From an institutional perspective, it was a huge shift that saw the Ministry of Environment’s stature rise within government, from “a patched together Ministry to a Ministry with power.”  

The Liberals’ Countdown Acid Rain Program:  The Zenith of Activism

In 1985 after Davis’ retirement, although the Conservatives won more seats in the Ontario Parliament by a slim margin, they did not have a majority.  Shortly after the election, the New Democratic Party agreed to support the Liberals for two years in return for the implementation of a mutually approved Accord.  At this point, the momentum for controlling acid rain had been growing and in 1986 Environment Minister, Jim Bradley, introduced Countdown Acid Rain, an ambitious program that would limit the emissions of Inco and other major sources of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in the province.  Environmental groups, particularly the Coalition on Acid Rain, had been instrumental in galvanizing public support for controls, and the introduction of this program reflected their considerable influence on the political agenda of the day. During the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, with public support still strong and effective groups actively promoting an environmental agenda, the Ministry of Environment led by keen Ministers of Environment enjoyed a period of successful initiatives and policy measures.  Many projects were reviewed under the Environmental Assessment Act with the public actively engaged in the planning process.  The Ministry of Natural Resources, for example, under the Environmental Assessment for Timber Management was required to submit its plans for forest management to an extensive public review which started in 1985, and a decision to accept the EA with conditions was made by the Environmental Assessment Board in 1994.  The Ministry’s enforcement activities were having a systemic impact on the way in which industry managed their environmental impacts.  The Investigations and Enforcement Branch was actively bringing polluters to justice, and its successful prosecution of Bata Industries showed that officers and directors could be liable if they did not follow through on their environmental responsibilities.  

The Legacy of the NDP

Another election in 1990 brought in the New Democratic Party.  Continuing a proactive approach to environmental concerns, Ruth Grier, the Environment Minister, banned incineration and took on the ill-fated task, which the former Liberal government had begun, of finding a site for Toronto’s garbage.  The NDP also introduced and passed the Environmental Bill of Rights, which Mark Winfield describes as a part of the NDP legacy that has survived.  However, the NDP were presented with tough economic times in the province and the Ministry of Environment, which had seen its funding go steadily up during the Bradley years, was caught in the financial restraints being imposed by the government.  This was the beginning of the Ministry’s funding and influence being eroded as successive governments continued to reduce the Ministry’s funding and weaken programs and legislation such as the EA Act that had been put in place by their predecessors. The story of the environment in Ontario is not one of uninterrupted progress, say the historians.  There were policy failures such as the Ontario Waste Management Corporation’s unsuccessful search for a hazardous waste site.  And, after many of the gains realized in the decades of the 70s, 80s and into the early 90s -- the creation of the Ministry of Environment itself, the passage of strong environmental legislation and the aggressive work of the Investigations and Enforcement Branch -- the province’s once strong environmental performance has been diminished not only by the withdrawal of funding for the Ministry but by policy reversals and deregulation.
John Martin, Mark McKenney

MOE Investigation and Enforcement Branch

By John Martin, Mark McKenney
The SIU demonstrated its effectiveness in 1983 when E. B. Eddy Forest Products spilled thousands of gallons of toxic waste into the Spanish River polluting the river for miles downstream...

After joining the Ontario Water Resources Commission (which later became part of the Ministry of Environment) as an engineer in 1970, John Martin went back to law school and in 1978 became the first full-time articling student in the Ministry of Environment’s Legal Services Branch.  That year, a landmark decision was made by the Supreme Court of Canada with far-reaching consequences for the way in which the Ministry of Environment dealt with polluters. This was the case of R. v. Sault Ste. Marie (City).  It began when the City of Sault Ste. Marie hired Cherokee Disposal Limited to manage the City’s landfill site.  As a result of Cherokee’s poor operation of the site, leachate from the landfill entered the St. Mary’s River and polluted it.  The Ministry of Environment charged both the City of Sault Ste. Marie and Cherokee Disposal under the Ontario Water Resources Act.  The judge found that the City was not responsible for the contractor’s polluting activities.  An appeal of this decision went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada where the Supreme Court introduced for the first time the concept of strict liability, a new category of offence. Strict liability made it possible for someone charged with violating environmental laws to argue that they had taken all reasonable care to prevent the violation, thereby practicing “due diligence.”  The Sault Ste. Marie decision meant companies could now argue that they had taken reasonable precautions to avoid polluting.  These precautions included putting an environmental management system in place, training employees to use the system and supervising employees to ensure the system was being followed.  These were actions that could show that a company had taken all reasonable care, in effect exercised due diligence, and was, therefore, not guilty in law.  Since Ministry of Environment staff had not received training in the legal issues surrounding evidence collection that could counter this argument, the Ministry of Environment began to lose cases to companies using this defence.

Strengthening the Ministry’s Training and Investigative Capacity

To address this problem, Harry Parrott, the Conservative Environment Minister from 1978 to 1981, in consultation with the long-time director of the Ministry’s Legal Services Branch, Neil Mulvaney, decided that the Ministry had to train its people in these legal issues.  They initiated a two week course at the Ministry of the Solicitor General’s Police College in Aylmer, Ontario.  At Aylmer, all Ministry abatement staff were trained to understand not only their legal powers but how to collect evidence and how to build a case against polluters by including evidence that would counter possible defences. This decision marked the beginning of the Ministry’s commitment to making its staff more effective in the enforcement of Ontario’s environmental laws.  As part of the Ministry’s commitment, in 1979 a Special Investigations Unit (SIU) was set up, and Mark McKenney was hired as one of the unit’s original 13 officers.  The SIU’s job was to investigate serious offences, and, when they were convinced that environmental laws had been broken, they wrote a Crown Brief to support laying charges and sent it to the Legal Services Branch.  Then, if the Legal Services Branch decided that there was sufficient evidence to support charges, a prosecution would be launched. The SIU demonstrated its effectiveness in 1983 when E. B. Eddy Forest Products spilled thousands of gallons of toxic waste into the Spanish River polluting the river for miles downstream.  Ministry of Environment investigators laid six charges, including charges not only against the company itself but also against two of its officials.  As a result of the national publicity surrounding this case and the growing need for more Ministry staff to properly conduct investigations, Andy Brandt, a Conservative MPP from Sarnia who was Environment Minister from 1983 until 1985, became interested in enhancing environmental enforcement.  Brandt decided to ask the government for funding to create a special enforcement branch that would strengthen the Ministry’s investigative capabilities.  A provincial election and a change of government interrupted this plan, but in 1985 the newly-elected Liberal Environment Minister, James Bradley, convinced his Cabinet colleagues to approve a new Investigations and Enforcement Branch (IEB) of 120 people, about double the size being considered by the outgoing government.

The Successful Establishment of the Investigations and Enforcement Branch

In 1985,the Ministry of Environment put in place the legendary IEB under the supervision of a former Metro police officer, Alex Douglas.  A new era of aggressive enforcement was set in motion as Ministry of Environment investigators teamed up with environmental staff scientists to crack down on pollution offences. The IEB’s work was grounded in the intensive training that staff received at the Police College in Aylmer. Their primary job was to investigate violations of the Ministry’s major Acts in place at that time – the Environmental Protection Act, the Ontario Water Resources Act, and the Pesticides Act – and the numerous regulations established under those Acts. In this heyday of environmental enforcement, the IEB conducted approximately 1200 investigations each year and laid charges in 500 or 600 cases.  The officers were so well-trained and their investigations so thorough that in those first years, Ministry lawyers were winning approximately 95 per cent of their cases.  Plea settlements became common as lawyers for companies who had been investigated by the IEB and charged by the Ministry advised their clients that a trial would be a costly proposition with a significant probability of being convicted. An example of one of the IEB’s most significant cases was Bata Industries in 1992.  In this case, company officers, for the first time in Canada, were charged, convicted and fined for their responsibility, as officers, in not ensuring that leaking barrels of chemical waste on company property were cleaned up.  This case was instrumental in showing the personal liability of members of company boards of directors and their duty of care in dealing with their environmental responsibilities on behalf of the company. Another example was the case of Bakelite Thermosets, a Belleville plant that manufactured plastic resins.  Bakelite had been polluting the air and water with phenols for many years and sending falsified reports to the Ministry of Environment.   Investigators from the IEB found that the Ministry was also notifying the company when they were coming to inspect the plant so that operations could be brought up to acceptable standards before they arrived.  A technician from the plant co-operated with the Ministry in its investigation and became the first person to successfully obtain remedy under the whistle blower provisions of the Environmental Protection Act.  The company eventually pleaded guilty and was fined $100,000.
Sarah Miller, John Jackson, Jeanne Jabanoski

Great Lakes United

By Sarah Miller, John Jackson, Jeanne Jabanoski
The Great Lakes form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth and 21% of the world's surface fresh water.

Great Lakes United: Cross-border coalition pushed Great Lakes issues onto political agenda

By the 1970s, the ecological fate of the Great Lakes hung in the balance. Lake Erie was choked with algae, toxic dump sites were leaking poisons into the Niagara River, and the media routinely featured graphic reports of fish kills and deformed waterfowl. Yet despite the mounting evidence, federal, provincial and state governments on both sides of the basin were ponderously slow to respond to the rapid decline of the Great Lakes. Into that vacuum of leadership stepped Great Lakes United (GLU), one of the first and, in its time, one of the most effective cross-border environmental coalitions. In a series of well planned campaigns, delivered with passion and backed by solid research, GLU facilitated citizen action, lobbied politicians and other decision-makers on the looming environmental crisis, and offered practical solutions on issues threatening the ecosystem of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Three former Great Lakes United Board members – former Environment Canada and Toronto Public Health official Jeanne Jabanoski, environmental activist and academic John Jackson, and now retired Canadian Environmental Law Association researcher Sarah Miller – discuss the early days of the organization and the evolution of environmental issues over the last 35 years in the Great Lakes basin. John also served as GLU’s president and vice president, Sarah as its vice president, and Jeanne as its Canadian treasurer for two terms.

The Beginning

In May 1982, a diverse group of conservationists, environmentalists, trade unionists, First Nations reps, educators and scientists from Canada and the United States gathered for two days in a sunlit meeting room on Michigan’s Mackinac Island to find a way to work together and focus attention on some of the key issues facing the Great Lakes. A new binational coalition was officially launched six months later during an organizing meeting in Windsor, Ontario. Great Lakes United – a name chosen after hours of debate – reflected the members’ overriding desire to work together for a common cause, while the witty acronym GLU represented “the group that holds the Great Lakes together.” By 1984, some 100 groups had gathered under the GLU banner. The coalition first coalesced around its members’ opposition to an ambitious and environmentally invasive proposal by the U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers to open the Great Lakes, via the St. Lawrence River, to winter shipping.  Concerned by the destructive impact of ice breaking on fish and wildlife habitat and the increased risk of spills, GLU succeeded in persuading the U.S. Congress to shelve the project in 1984.

Early success

That early success was followed by a series of effective, well planned campaigns that are still remembered for their inventive tactics. For instance, GLU co-hosted a “toxic buffet” for Washington, D.C. decision-makers featuring a menu of lake-caught salmon, trout and sturgeon – each with its toxic contaminants listed – and drinking water sourced from each of the Great Lakes. The deformed cormorant Cosmo, its beak twisted and distorted by the mutagenic chemicals in its parents’ diet, made several memorable appearances at press conferences in the Region and congressional hearings in Washington DC. In 1986, GLU toured communities around the lakes, holding high-profile community hearings where local residents voiced their concerns about environmental issues and toxic threats. The findings from GLU’s hearings became an important basis for the Canadian and U.S. governments’ renegotiation of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1987. Again and again, GLU’s reasoned arguments and impassioned campaigns derailed major water diversion proposals, focused attention on the toxic effects of air and water pollution on wildlife, supported passage of the Great Lakes Charter on water diversions and the Four-Party Niagara River Toxics Management Agreement, and helped strengthen the U.S. Clean Water Act. GLU staff also worked with local groups to build support for the development of Remedial Action Plans (or RAPS) for the then 42 areas of concern in some of the most contaminated sites around the basin, and successfully lobbied for the addition of a 43rd site to this action list.

Debate continues over tactics

By May 1986, GLU’s member groups totaled 200. However, despite the early and on-going effectiveness of GLU, members continued to debate whether the organization should embrace political action by mobilizing and coordinating grassroots advocacy, or whether it should be a looser coalition, focused on education and information sharing.
“GLU's success was the care they took to be inclusive and democratic. I remember a lot of hard work that aimed for consensus on the principles that would guide campaign programs and actions each year.” — Sarah Miller
In the end, GLU adopted a compromise approach, supporting and facilitating the campaigns of local groups, while giving voice to those community concerns on the basin-wide international stage. In turn, the exuberance and local expertise of the grassroots groups kept GLU on the cutting edge of environmental developments. For example, GLU and its membership pioneered the ‘ecosystem approach’ and the ‘zero discharge’ goal. They insisted that Great Lakes governance needed to be guided by these concepts. As a result of the success of its community hearings on Great Lakes issues in 1986, GLU was granted official observer status during the formal negotiations between Canada and the U.S. on the 1987 update of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA). And when GLU talked, politicians listened because they knew the coalition was backed by hundreds of organizations with tens of thousands of members.

Working with the IJC

GLU also played an integral role in the deliberations of the International Joint Commission (IJC), the independent binational body established by the U.S. and Canada to regulate shared water uses and investigate transboundary issues. The biennial IJC meetings in the 1980s and early 90s provided a platform for GLU to raise concerns, often loudly and boisterously, about contaminated sediments, human health effects, invasive species and climate changes effects on the Great Lakes, and to push for the ‘zero discharge’ of priority pollutants to both the Commission and the international media. However the terms of the 1987 GLWQA, assigning operational responsibility for much of the action on the Great Lakes back to the individual federal, state and provincial agencies, undermined the influence of the IJC and, ultimately, binational coalitions like GLU. The organization continued to work and contribute to the environmental discourse, but the binational Great Lakes community of governments, scientists, and activists was weakening. Funding foundations moved on to embrace other causes, while government funding for citizen participation evaporated. The renewal and modernization of the GLWQA – the focus of so much of GLU's work – was put ‘on hold’ for almost 10 years. The Canadian federal government quietly abandoned its Great Lakes commitments, while the U.S. funded local agencies to carry on their Great Lakes projects unilaterally. These changes in the Great Lakes activities and community made the challenge of maintaining the binational coalition of Great Lakes United ever more challenging. GLU’s Board of Directors made the difficult decision to close down the organization’s operations and Buffalo office on July 1, 2013. Although individual former GLU members remain active, they sorely miss the coordinated international voice that GLU provided for the Great Lakes.  
Harry Dahme, Stephen Garrod and John Willms

The First Environmental Lawyers in Private Practice

By Harry Dahme, Stephen Garrod and John Willms
How do you become an environmental lawyer when there are few environmental laws and almost no courses to prepare you?

How do you become an environmental lawyer when there are few environmental laws and almost no courses to prepare you?  Driven by a desire to protect the environment, John Willms, Stephen Garrod and Harry Dahme were three of the first in Ontario to practice what is now known as environmental law. In 1970, they had to make it up for themselves. The first tentative steps were taken by some law professors and their students at the University of Toronto (U of T).  To support the newly-formed Pollution Probe and emerging environmental groups who were fielding calls from concerned citizens, they decided to establish a public interest law clinic.  They thought perhaps the courts could be used to remedy the complaints that were coming in fast and furiously as concern for the environmental took hold.  To this end, they created the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), and in late 1971 a young lawyer named David Estrin became its first full-time lawyer. John Willms, who had been at Osgoode Hall law school when the idea of an environmental law clinic began to percolate, was drafted into service by his former classmates as CELA’s Treasurer and member of their Executive Committee.  As he became increasingly more involved with CELA’s legal work in a volunteer capacity, environmental issues started to become part of his private practice at the firm of Greenspan and Vaughan.  Now in 2014 the firm, which evolved to Willms & Shier, is the largest environmental law firm in Canada.  Stephen Garrod started as a student at Osgoode Hall Law School in 1974, enrolled in York University’s Masters of Environmental Studies program in 1975 and became the prototype for and the first graduate of York’s Joint LLB/MES program in 1978. Fresh out of law school, he found his first articling job with David Estrin after David had left CELA and opened his own practice, the first in Canada dedicated solely to environmental issues. After a few years of honing his legal skills with David, Stephen left to start his own practice in environmental law, in Guelph, which continues today as Garrod Pickfield LLP.  Similarly, Harry Dahme, who was weighing whether he could make a greater impact through politics or law, chose law and, after graduating from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1982, replaced Garrod as David Estrin’s associate.  A few years later, Estrin and Dahme joined forces with Gowlings, one of Canada’s biggest law firms, where in 2014 they celebrated 30 years of working together in the practice of environmental law. Over the course of the forty years practicing environmental law, the three of them have seen significant changes in the legal landscape.  In the beginning, their clients were local groups and environmental organizations fighting to protect communities from contamination or unwanted projects.  Sometimes they got paid in homemade wine or chickens and sometimes they didn’t get paid at all.  But those were heady days in which representing a citizens’ group might lead to significant progress – stopping toxic waste dumping, preserving agricultural lands or reforming the way the Ministry of Environment approved projects, particularly landfill sites.   At that time, the Ministry’s certificates of approval, which were supposed to set conditions for how pollutants would be managed, were often like “elevator licences,” according to John Willms.  However, the hard-fought battles that communities waged in courts or hearings led to tightening up the way in which landfills around the province were designed and monitored. The first change in the practice of environmental law occurred when many of the clients who had cut their teeth as environmental leaders ran for municipal office.   Once elected as councillors, they hired the same lawyers that had helped them in their fights with the Ministry.  In some cases where municipalities were looking for landfills or to site new projects, the lawyers found themselves hired to represent the proponents of projects rather than the opponents, always with the goal of ensuring that projects met the highest standards for community consultation and environmental protection. In another important development that influenced the evolving practice of environmental law, the 1980s saw the introduction in Ontario of new acts and regulations with far-reaching effects.   The Environmental Assessment Act required detailed plans and reviews of projects before they could go ahead.  If the projects were contentious, hearings might be held.  At the same time, in 1988 the Intervenor Funding Project Act gave citizens’ groups the financial ability to hire environmental lawyers.  Instead of time in court, environmental lawyers more often found themselves at lengthy hearings before boards such as the Environmental Assessment Board or the Ontario Energy Board where arguments over major project proposals could be heard and resolved.  The years between 1985 and 1990 were a boom time and many large Bay Street firms set up departments that offered expertise in environmental law. In the 1990s, however, the provincial structure that allowed for environmental reviews and hearings began to be dismantled.  The Environmental Assessment Act was revised so that few projects were subject to hearings and the Intervenor Funding Project Act was not renewed.  The practice of environmental law shifted again, and environmental lawyers today find themselves engaged in cases revolving around corporate due diligence, the rehabilitation of contaminated sites, proposals for energy projects, pits and quarries and environmental planning.  
Jim Drummond, Nels Conroy, Dennis Draper

Pulp and Paper Mills

By Jim Drummond, Nels Conroy, Dennis Draper
A 30-year Odyssey: Curbing water pollution in the pulp and paper industry

In 1850, the first Canadian pulp and paper mill began operating in the Don Valley of Toronto. A little over a century later, there were more than a 140 pulp and paper mills situated along the great rivers of the North – including 31 in Ontario – providing tens of thousands of jobs, driving exports and underpinning the national economy. For a time, nearly every sheet of every newspaper printed around the world was made from pulp processed in Canadian mills. But along with the considerable economic benefits they conferred, those mills were also contributing huge loadings of air and water pollutants to the environment. Three former managers with the Ontario Ministry of Environment – Jim Drummond, Nels Conroy and Dennis Draper – share their experiences in the field, in the lab and in the courts while they worked to reduce wastewater discharges from pulp and paper mills across Ontario. Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller also contributes some stories of his early years as a district officer with MOE in Northern Ontario.

Pollution was killing the great rivers of Northern Ontario

Pulp and paper mills had a huge impact on the rivers that received their wastes.  For up to 40 miles downriver from a mill, there were no fish, nobody boated or swam, and nobody drank the water. Mats of bark and wood chips covered the entire river bed for miles, destroying aquatic habitat and smothering spawning grounds, while brown foam floated on the surface. Extremely toxic contaminants built up in the sediments and bioaccumulated in any aquatic species that survived. Foul smelling pollutants and smoke billowed into the sky; some called it “the smell of prosperity.”

The first pollution control objectives are proposed

For much of the 20th Century, governments ignored or excused the environmental excesses of the industry.  The first wastewater quality objectives for the province’s pulp and paper mills were contained in a non-enforceable directive setting targets for improved water quality that was issued in 1965. All of these targets were to have been met by the end of 1969. None were. By 1975, as a result of a series of voluntary abatement programs, about half of Ontario's mills had managed to cut their gross discharges of wastewater and a handful had achieved the 1965 objectives. However, others had actually increased the amount of waste they were dumping into Ontario waters. In 1970, the federal government amended their Fisheries Act so they could issue pollution control regulations for various industrial sectors. The following year, the Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations were passed, which set some limits on the bark, wood fibres and other organic material being dumped, and prohibited the release of effluents that were killing fish. However, the standards applied only to new, expanded and/or altered mills. For existing mills, the federal limits served as non-enforceable guidelines. Only an estimated ten percent of mills were forced to comply with the federal limits, minimizing their environmental impact. Other regulations made under the Fisheries Act limited the mercury in liquid effluents and included sampling and reporting requirements, while separate regulations under the Clean Air Act to control air-borne emissions were put in place in 1978.

Mercury pollution in the English-Wabigoon river system

By the late 1960s, the first concerns about mercury poisoning were being raised on the White Dog and Grassy Narrows reserves in Northwestern Ontario. Since 1962, up to 20 pounds a day of mercury had been dumped into the English-Wabigoon river system from a chlor-alkali plant operated by Reed Paper Limited (formerly the Dryden Chemical Company) to produce the chlorine used in bleaching pulp. While the province ordered the company to stop discharging mercury in March 1970 – and all commercial (but not sport) fishing in the river was banned – mercury releases persisted under various extensions granted to the company. Airborne emissions also continued until the company stopped using its mercury-based process in October 1975. By that time, the sub-acute symptoms of Minamata disease, a severe and irreversible neurological disorder, were being diagnosed among dozens of residents on the two reserves. Minamata is caused by high exposure to methyl-mercury, which bioaccumulated in the fish that comprised a large part of the diet on the reserves. When the company was sold in 1979, an estimated 16 tonnes of mercury remained in the river sediments, and mercury-related health problems are still being reported in the reserves to this day.

Ontario resorts to control orders and court cases

Other than the federal regulations, there were no minimum industrial discharge standards covering pulp and paper mills operating in Ontario. In order to reduce wastewater discharges and air emissions, the District Offices of the Ministry of the Environment began to impose a series of Control Orders on individual mills under the authority of the Environmental Protection Act. Companies were installing new processing and pollution control equipment, tightening up operations and reducing wastes. In addition, new energy-efficient, low-waste paper-making technologies were slowly replacing some of the older, dirtiest mills. As a result, gross pollution from the industry was finally being brought under control. Between 1970 and 1984, the amount of bark, fibres and other suspended solids had been cut by 75 per cent. Organic waste discharges, which would decompose downstream stripping much of the oxygen from the water, were down by almost 60 per cent. However, certain problem areas still required further attention, including the release of dioxins, furans and other chlorinated wastes, phosphorous, toluene, phenol and certain odorous air pollutants, as well as excessive levels of organic wastes and suspended solids still being discharged from some mills.

Ontario uses Municipal/Industrial Strategy for Abatement to curb toxic effluents

In 1986, the Ministry launched its Municipal/Industrial Strategy for Abatement (MISA) to identify and reduce the water pollutants from nine different sectors, including the pulp and paper industry, with the goal of virtually eliminating certain toxic contaminants. Working with industry representatives and a multi-stakeholder advisory committee, the Ministry spent the next five years collecting effluent monitoring data and assessing the best available control technologies and pollution prevention opportunities for reducing emissions from each sector. Finally, in November 1993, the Ministry issued the Effluent Monitoring and Effluent Limits regulation (O. Reg. 760/93), which set stringent discharge limits for each of the province’s remaining 27 pulp and paper mills. Mill discharges also had to meet strict toxicity tests, and the nine mills that still used chlorine bleaching had to completely phase out their release of organochlorines by 2002. Overall, the MISA regulation was expected to reduce persistent toxic compounds from the pulp and paper sector by up to 90 per cent, based on 1990 levels.

Updating the federal standards

After extensive consultation, the federal Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations were completely revised in May 1992. All pulp and paper mills are now required to meet the effluent quality standards, ensure their wastewaters were not lethal to fish, and undertake comprehensive environmental effects monitoring. Two additional sets of amendments to the federal regulations were adopted in 2004 and 2008, focused mainly on monitoring and reporting requirements, while streamlining toxicity testing and biological monitoring. In recent years, the economic restructuring of the industry and a switch to more competitive sources of pulp in the tropics have also served to curb discharges. It took nearly 30 years, but authorities had finally brought the environmental impacts of the pulp and paper sector under control.
Paul Taylor, John Hanson, Glenda Gies

Recycling Council of Ontario

By Paul Taylor, John Hanson, Glenda Gies
Since its formation in 1978 until the present day, the Recycling Council of Ontario (RCO) has been a driving force behind the diversion of waste from Ontario landfills.

Although recycling has now become synonymous with a Blue Box in front of every house on “garbage day,” it wasn’t always this way.  And the RCO played a critical role in moving us from a province that threw everything away to a province in the forefront of recycling, both nationally and internationally.  Three people who led the RCO through this transformative time were former Executive Directors Paul Taylor and John Hanson, and long-time RCO Board Member, Glenda Gies, who became the first Executive Director of Waste Diversion Ontario. And it all began with the commitment of a few dedicated individuals.   In the 1960s garbage was a big issue and an environmental flashpoint for many individuals and high-profile groups like Pollution Probe.  Citizen activists like Glenda Gies in Durham, Roberta Golightly in Halton, and Jack McGinnis of Is Five in East York began to experiment with different ways of collecting materials in their communities.  Sometimes funded by small grant programs and sometimes not, they set up recycling depots, orchestrated door to door drives, and even tried curbside pickups.  Schools, community centres, church basements and garages were put into service as temporary collection centres for newspapers, tins, glass containers and steel cans, all potentially valuable materials that could be sold to defray the costs of collection and underwrite their efforts.  Only garbage collection was organized by the municipalities, and for everything else, as Glenda Gies describes it, they made it up as they went along. As local recycling initiatives proliferated around the province, these early pioneers saw a benefit in banding together.  One Saturday in 1978, Jack McGinnis and the Is Five Foundation organized the first-ever Ontario conference on recycling at Trinity Church behind the Eaton Centre in Toronto, and opened the doors to anyone interested in recycling.  Those who came – waste managers, consultants, community business leaders and concerned citizens – decided to establish a non-profit organization that would help groups find stable markets for the materials they were collecting and provide information to the public.  Thus, the Recycling Council of Ontario was born, and Eric Hellman, a volunteer at Is Five, became its first Executive Director.  The original mission was to divert material from landfills, a monumental task for the RCO that Jack McGinnis described as an “environmental Don Quixote tilting at landfills.”  At that time, the Ministry of Environment was funding the competition – a $15 million experimental plant for Resource Recovery in Downsview that would take mixed garbage and try to recover recyclable materials.  However, when it became apparent in the late 70s that the model plant would never be a success, the Ministry began to support recycling programs, with the Minister, Harry Parrott, in 1980 making funds available to organizations and municipalities for separating materials with value from the garbage. A start-up grant from the Ministry of Environment helped fund the newly-formed RCO, and their Ontario-wide toll-free line provided information on recycling and selling materials, assisted people setting up collection programs, and linked up those who had materials with those who could use them.  In 1980, Paul Taylor became Executive Director just as the organization was becoming increasingly more action-oriented.  In addition to helping members with their marketing, the RCO began to facilitate co-operation between all those involved in waste management.  It became more involved in developing recycling policy based on solid research and in urging municipalities to start recycling programs.  By 1984, at least 45% of Ontario’s population had curbside recycling for at least one material, and recycling was no longer a way to raise funds for community groups.  Halton Region, where RCO’s Board Chair Gwen Discepelo operated Halton’s Recycled Resources, had just introduced the first region-wide “separation at source” recycling program in Ontario.  The Blue Box, which had been successfully launched in a pilot program by Nyle Ludolph of Laidlaw Waste Systems in Kitchener in 1981, was being adopted by more and more municipalities, with Halton being followed by Mississauga, Durham, Niagara and then Toronto.  By the time John Hanson took over as Executive Director in 1987, the Blue Box program was expanding rapidly all across Ontario, and ambitious targets began to be set with municipalities trying for diversion rates of 10, 15 or even 25%. During the 1980s when recycling was becoming integral to Ontario’s waste management systems, the RCO was a respected and authoritative voice: supporting original provincial regulations on refillable soft drink containers; ensuring that the soft drink industry incorporated the recovery of all its diverse containers into recycling programs; working with industry and governments through the Ministry of Environment’s Recycling Advisory Committee to stabilize financial and technical support for full multi-material recycling programs; monitoring the growth of recycling in Ontario and keeping reliable statistical information; and promoting waste diversion activities beyond the Blue Box through initiatives like composting, waste oil recovery and even an effective campaign to reject junk mail. We are pleased to have a large amount of historical materials from the RCO from this period. A selection appears on the right hand side of this page. To see the rest, please contact the Resource Centre Coordinator at the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.
Bob Rae, Ruth Grier

Bob Rae and the NDP Government

By Bob Rae, Ruth Grier
In the 1990 provincial election, Bob Rae led the New Democratic Party of Ontario to a surprising majority government. He had an aggressive environmental agenda. Here's the story.

In the 1990 provincial election, Bob Rae led the New Democratic Party of Ontario to an unexpected majority government.   He succeeded David Peterson as Premier of Ontario and became the 21st Premier and the first New Democrat to hold this office.  In choosing his Cabinet, he appointed many previously-elected Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) who as opposition critics had developed expertise in their portfolios.  Ruth Grier, Rae’s trusted environment critic since her election in Etobicoke-Lakeshore in 1985, became the NDP’s first Minister of the Environment. Rae’s interest in environmental issues began in the late 1960s when, as a student at the University of Toronto, he attended the early meetings that led to the creation of Pollution Probe.  After graduation, he became a lawyer for the United Steelworkers of America.  Working with union activists, he saw the links between health and safety concerns for workers and environmental issues for the public.  When he was elected leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party in 1982, he gave environmental issues a high profile through his questions in the Legislature, by touring affected areas like the polluted Niagara River, and by supporting the task forces and reports of NDP MPPs on topics like energy, forestry and health and safety.    In the 1985 election after the Tories were returned with a slim minority, he entered into an agreement – called the Accord – with David Peterson, the leader of the opposition Liberals.  In return for implementing the Accord that would last two years, Rae would support the Liberals in forming a government.  The Accord required the Liberals to implement a spills bill, which had been the law for many years but never proclaimed (i.e. implemented).  The Spills Bill made those who created spills responsible for the cleanup.  The Accord also included a commitment to form a Standing Committee on Energy to oversee Ontario Hydro, to pass freedom of information legislation, and to introduce toxic substances regulations under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.  At the end of two years, the Liberals called an election and won a solid majority, governing for 3 years until 1990.  During this time, as leader of the opposition Rae continued to press the government on environmental issues.  In 1989, e made headlines when he was arrested in the Temagami area of northeastern Ontario  after joining protesters trying to save the old growth forests. In 1990, when Rae became Premier, public opinion polls showed that environmental issues were still very important even though the province had started to slide into recession.  Despite the fiscal challenges, the government remained committed to an environmental agenda that saw sustainability not just as the sole responsibility of the Minister of the Environment but as a philosophy that needed to underpin all Ministries and their programs.  In the 1990 election, Rae had campaigned on an “Agenda for the People”, which included a number of environmental promises – the right to a clean environment and clean air, to reducing garbage through recycling, to the preservation of agricultural lands, to the improvement of public transit and to responding to needs of native people. One of the first actions of the NDP government was to commit to introducing an Environmental Bill of Rights, which became a significant piece of environmental legislation for the Rae government when it became law in 1993.  As well, Environment Minister Grier banned the incineration of waste and introduced “3Rs” regulations that required municipalities to recycle specific materials.  She attempted to find a solution to Toronto’s growing garbage problems but ran into opposition from municipalities and citizens around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) who fiercely contested the proposed landfill sites.  In addition, an NDP private member’s bill that would prohibit new waste disposal sites in the Niagara Escarpment Plan Area passed into law. Under the Municipal-Industrial Strategy for Abatement, introduced by Grier’s predecessor, Liberal Environment Minister, Jim Bradley, monitoring had been required of major industrial water polluters.  Grier followed up with stringent regulations focussed on pollution prevention, the first of which compelled the pulp and paper industry to eliminate dioxins and furans from its effluent.  Like Bradley, Grier’s advisers were also committed and experienced environmentalists -- Joyce McLean from Greenpeace, and Linda Pim and Anne Wordsworth, both of whom had first worked at Pollution Probe and then in the NDP research office at the Ontario Legislature. In opposition, Rae had tried but failed to persuade the Liberals to cancel the expansion of the Darlington nuclear power plant during the Accord period.  Because so much money had been invested in Darlington by the time the NDP came to power, the government had no choice but to finish it.   However, the NDP put in place a moratorium on further nuclear development and shifted the emphasis to energy efficiency and conservation.  Conservation programs were introduced by Brian Charlton at the Ministry of Energy and by Maurice Strong as the Chair of Ontario Hydro.   Other Ministries were also engaged in putting into place sustainable policies, which Rae actively encouraged and supported.  Bud Wildman, as Minister of Natural Resources, developed the Crown Forest Sustainability Act to protect the long-term viability of Ontario’s forests.  Howard Hampton, who succeeded Wildman at Natural Resources, began the consultations on provincial parks that would eventually expand Ontario’s parks system.  Elmer Buchanan as Minister of Agriculture and Food introduced protections on the Niagara fruit lands, and Minister of Transportation Gilles Pouliot oversaw an ambitious transportation plan for the Greater Toronto Area, and construction on one of three new subway lines was begun.   Rae’s vision for his time in government was both sustainable and collaborative.  He championed “a new way of doing things” that brought together many disparate interests, including environmentalists, workers, First Nations and industry to collaborate with government, and he incorporated environmental concerns into the NDP government’s day-to day-decision-making.  
David Balsillie, James Bishop, Peter Dennis

Ministry of the Environment: Part 2

By David Balsillie, James Bishop, Peter Dennis
When the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) was created in 1972, questions soon emerged. The public wanted action, but what would the staff at this new ministry actually do about the environment, and how should it be done? (Pictured above are Gord Miller, David Balsillie, James Bishop, and Peter Dennis.)

When the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) was created in 1972, questions soon emerged. The public wanted action, but what would the staff at this new ministry actually do about the environment, and how should it be done? It was a reasonable question. Creating the new government ministry was the result of public opinion, political will and good intentions. But it takes expertise and action to put these good intentions into practice and make a difference. After the first Earth Day in 1970, a consensus emerged in public opinion, in Ontario as well as other provinces and countries, that protecting the environment was a full-time job. It seemed to most people, and to the governments they elected, that the best way to make sure the work would get done was to have one full-time government ministry or agency in charge. In Ontario, it fell to a special group of experts to actually do the work of protecting the environment — senior government officials with scientific expertise. David Balsillie, Peter Dennis and James Bishop were three of those pioneering senior environment officials who worked for Ontario. Their backgrounds were in water resources and energy management. Before MOE was created, a provincial agency called Ontario Water Resources Commission (now part of the MOE) was responsible for managing all aspects of water , while energy fell under other ministries such as the Ministry of Natural Resources, with most energy management and planning done by Ontario Hydro.

Managing Ontario’s environment

It quickly became clear that while water and energy were part of the mix, managing Ontario’s environment was a bigger job. There were other issues such as waste management, land use and air pollution — and how all these issues interacted with one another became an important part of the senior Ministry officials’ work. One of the first tasks in the new Ministry was to develop an organizational structure — determining who would be responsible for what. It took until 1974, two years after the Ministry was formed, to set up and assign responsibilities to regional Environment Ministry offices across the province. The Ministry officials and staff also worked hard to establish a database to help record the state of the environment — measurements of air and water quality, soil composition and so on. It’s important to know the situation you’re starting with if you want to know how to improve it. They studied fish, comparing samples collected from Ontario waterways to fish provided by museums and from aquariums to see what kinds of pollutants were affecting the province’s aquatic life. The difficulty is that the natural samples don’t always compare exactly with museum or aquarium samples, because there are so many variables in the natural conditions. Over the years, thanks to advances in technology, the ability to measure and catalogue samples has become much more accurate. Ministry officials also responded to complaints about discharges from industries into the water, and studied chemicals found in water samples, learning more each year about new environmental challenges that need to be met. Collecting the data was just a start — it also had to be organized, interpreted and explained. It took Ministry staff about three years, for example, to come up with a comprehensive guidebook for regional staff to use to determine how to manage water quality. It was important to get it right. It seems simple today to know what categories to put into such a guide, but in the 1970s environmental scientists were heading into new territory as they developed the goals, policies, objectives and implementation procedures for water policy — the roadmap to a cleaner Ontario.

Laying the groundwork

As the Ministry worked away, of course the environment itself did not sit still. There were new spills and accidents, newly understood pollution threats and new ways to measure, manage, regulate and reduce environmental threats. In the 1970s, the Ministry had to address issues ranging from mercury poisoning in Northern Ontario waterways caused by pulp mills to acid rain to forestry and waste management. At the beginning of the decade 70s scientists could detect toxic chemicals in water and air in parts per million. It sounds like a minute, precise measurement, but it was later surpassed by far more accurate ones. By the 1990s technology advanced so that they could see parts per quadrillion — and they could detect a veritable toxic soup of chemicals, many of them carcinogenic. The Ministry forged on —Ontario developed and deployed some of the most advanced environmental technologies for example, in water testing and analysis. In 1985, officials established the scientific base that enabled Ontario to bring in Countdown Acid Rain, one of the toughest acid rain control regulations in the world. In 1985, MOE hosted the world’s first international scientific conference on dioxin, a cancer-linked byproduct of incineration. Ontario hosted it again in 1998. The Ministry’s deep background work laid the groundwork for programs like Ontario’s Blue Box programs and the Municipal Industrial Abatement Strategy (MISA), which measures and deals with 322 parameters for what kinds of substances are in 1,200 municipal water supplies. Later programs in the early 21st century included tougher air regulations, addressing climate change and a comprehensive management plan for Lake Simcoe. Other challenges, such as cleaning up toxic “hot spots” at various points on the Great Lakes, remain daunting for the Ministry and for Ontario. MOE’s first generation scientists are still excited about their work — both the early work they did to establish the Ministry and to get it moving, and the current work being done every day to protect Ontario’s environment, in water pollution research and abatement, air quality improvement, waste management and control of toxic substances.