This morning, Ecojustice released Getting Tough on Environmental Crime?, a report that finds the federal government’s record on the enforcement of its own environmental laws is weak.

Environmental laws protect the air, water and land we need to be healthy and keep us safe from pollution, toxic chemicals and overdevelopment. However, these laws are only effective when properly enforced by the governments that enacted them.”

The average number of convictions under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), one of our country’s most important pollution laws, is about 20 per year. That’s extremely small when compared to the number of inspections, warnings and investigations. The threat of conviction is supposed to deter polluters, but the low percentage of convictions leads us to doubt the effectiveness of CEPA enforcement in preventing environmental crime.

Average fines for environmental offenders, which amount to about $10,000 per CEPA conviction, are also too low to serve as an effective deterrent for would-be polluters, according to the report. It took Environment Canada more than 20 years to collect $2.4-million in fines under CEPA. In comparison, the Toronto Public Library collected $2.6-million in fines for overdue books in 2009 alone.

A major issue is that the data on environmental enforcement is often inconsistent, incomplete and hard to access. Information about who is breaking the rules, where they broke them and what exactly they did is hard to come by.

We recommended that the federal government make all information about pollution, environmental degradation and enforcement effects publicly available online. The report suggests that the government create an online database of its enforcement activity similar to what’s available in the United States (Check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online).

“Canadians should be able to log on, type their postal code into an online database and see who is breaking environmental laws and what government is doing to prevent and punish those violations,” Amos said.

Ecojustice calls on the federal government to deliver on the commitments made in the Environmental Enforcement Act by confronting the serious deficiencies in its enforcement efforts. The federal government must also follow through on its promise to get tough on environmental crime by enforcing our laws and by shining a bright light on its enforcement activities.

A culture of open government, combined with strong and effective enforcement of Canada’s environmental laws, is needed if we are to protect this country’s land, air and water. As our chief environmental guardian, the federal government must truly stand on guard for thee.