Hefty fine to be an example
A courtroom trend is making corporate directors more accountable when breaking the law
Yellowknife ( May 19/00) - When companies don't abide by environmental legislation, directors are not exempt from charges.
That's the point Crown prosecutor Alan Regel intended to make when Darrel Beaulieu, along with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and the corporation it owns, Deton' Cho, were sentenced under Fisheries Act charges Tuesday.
He said sections of the Fisheries Act entitle prosecution of people operating a corporation, rather than just the corporate entity.
"There's a trend toward using it more now than there has been," Regel explained."
The officers and directors who are making these decisions are going to have to take a closer look at the consequences."
Beaulieu was chief of the Yellowknives Dene and president of the Deton' Cho Corp. in 1997, when debris was unlawfully bulldozed into Back Bay off Latham Island.
The band was fined $60,000, and Beaulieu was assessed a $3,000 penalty in Judge Michel Bourassa's sentencing. Bourassa added that the practise of prosecuting individuals is new but he saw that Beaulieu was guilty in this situation.
"Beaulieu actively participated in all of the events examined here by making on-site assessments and decisions as required from time to time," Bourassa said in his reasons for judgment.
"He issued directives and was effectively in charge throughout."
The outcome was different from another high-profile case.
Royal Oak Mines was fined $1.4 million on April 13 for not abiding by Fisheries and Water Act regulations.
The fine served as a precedent-setting measure since the company was bankrupt.
Regel, who also prosecuted the mining company, said the hefty fine was intended to encourage others to abide by the law rather than ignore it, even though the fine will likely not be paid.
The likelihood of the Royal Oak's directors paying a fine is slim, however, unless further charges are laid against them.
The company, which owned Colomac mine, located 200 kilometres north of Yellowknife, was charged with disposing toxins into the environment and possibly into Duck Lake.
They were also charged under the Water Act on two counts of refusing to give water board inspectors information on the tailing pipes and the cleanup, and was fined $100,000 on both counts.
The company officials who refused to provide the information to water board inspectors were not charged.
Regel refused to elaborate on why charges against directors weren't laid in that case. But he did say any individual in that situation can be charged at any time and it is up to investigating bodies to investigate them, whereas his office acts as the prosecution service.
He also said the charges in the Royal Oak case were directed according to evidence gathered in the investigation.
The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was the regulatory body that carried out the investigation.
Section 78.2 of the Fisheries Act reads, "Where a corporation commits an offence...any officer, director or agent of the corporation who directed, authorized, assented to, acquiesced in or participated in the commission of the offence is a party to and guilty of the offence and is liable on conviction...whether or not the corporation has been prosecuted."
Essentially, it is possible for officers of a company to be charged under the Fisheries Act but it must be clear how they were involved with a specific offence.
Floyd Adlem, director of operations for DIAND, could not be reached for comment but previously told Yellowknifer that the department is discussing the possibility of going ahead with further charges against Royal Oak and its directors.