Syncrude cannot duck from charges in death of 500 waterfowl

Private prosecution launched against oil company after governments ‘stall’
Wednesday Jan 7, 2009

EDMONTON – One of Canada’s largest oil companies is under legal fire today for causing the death of several hundred ducks in a massive toxic tailings pond in Alberta’s  Tar Sands last year. Ecojustice lawyer Barry Robinson launched a private prosecution against Syncrude Canada on behalf of concerned Alberta resident, Jeh Custer. 

Custer, a representative of Sierra Club Canada, is taking legal action to ensure the oily death of hundreds of ducks in northern Alberta does not become status quo in the Tar Sands. Last spring, approximately 500 ducks died after landing on one of Syncrude’s tailings ponds which cover more than 50 square kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

“Pollution from tar sands extraction is making the environment too toxic for birds and people,” said Custer. “The regrettable failure of the Alberta and federal governments to enforce their own environmental laws means that ordinary Canadians must act”.

This morning, Custer took the first steps toward launching a private prosecution in provincial court against Syncrude under the Federal Migratory Birds Convention Act, which prohibits the deposit of a harmful substance in an area frequented by migratory birds.  Launched by Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) on behalf of Custer, the prosecution is also supported by Sierra Club Canada and Forest Ethics.

In the days following the wildlife disaster, both federal and provincial government officials vowed to take action against Syncrude, threatening fines of up to $1 million. Environment Canada could press charges under the Federal Migratory Birds Convention Act. The Alberta Department of the Environment could lay charges under the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. But nine months later no charges from either government have been laid.

“The federal government has been ducking its responsibility to ensure the environment and human health are protected in the Tar Sands region. If Canada won’t step up and enforce its own laws, we will,” said Gillian McEachern of Forest Ethics.

Without prosecution, environmentalists fear more plant, animal, and human life will be threatened by toxic tailings ponds produced through Tar Sands extraction.

“It is important that environmental infractions are prosecuted in a timely manner in order to protect both humans and wildlife from prohibited activities,” said Robinson. “We hope the private prosecution sends a message that the needless death of 500 ducks is unacceptable.”

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