Owned and operated by the City of Moncton, the former Moncton riverside landfill is located on 35 hectares (87 acres) of land on the Petitcodiac riverfront. It began operating shortly after the causeway was built in 1968, and was closed in 1992 after more than 20 years of operation. Historical records reference the following notable wastes disposed of at the facility: residential, construction, petroleum waste oil, liquid animal waste, asbestos pipe insulation, urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI), septic waste, sewage sludge and medical wastes (GEMTEC Report, 1995). Opponents of river restoration were convinced for years that with the landfill strategically located next to the causeway, the risks of opening the causeway gates would be too great and therefore never happen in their lifetime. The argument was simplistic and easily sparked fear amongst the uninformed public and elected officials just as contented to leave the two problems alone (causeway and landfill).
In the summer of 2000, Riverkeeper enlisted the services of the Environmental Bureau of Investigations (EBI – directed by Mark Mattson, one of Canada’s best environmental lawyers) to conduct an independent environmental investigation into the case. It revealed that between 100,000 and 300,000 litres of toxic leachate was entering the Petitcodiac River and Jonathan Creek every day from various discharge points along the former landfill. Leachate discharge samples were collected, sent to an accredited lab for testing and found to be lethal to fish, an indictable criminal offence under Canada’s Fisheries Act. Riverkeeper and EBI thereafter filed an official complaint and handed over their evidence to the Enforcement Division of Environment Canada, who took over the case.
In February 2002, charges were subsequently laid by Environment Canada against the City of Moncton (owner), the City’s Commissioner of Engineering and the private engineering firm responsible for the closure plan (GEMTEC). In a surprise move the City of Moncton pled guilty to the charges in September 2003, was fined $35,000 and agreed to a multi-million-dollar clean-up order, in exchange for the acquittal of its engineering commissioner. The engineering firm (GEMTEC) was found guilty and forced to pay a $28,000 fine. These became Atlantic Canada’s first criminal charges against a municipality, and Canada’s first criminal charges against an engineering consulting firm for knowingly allowing the deposit of a toxic substance into a waterway and failing to comply with the Federal Fisheries Act. Remedial works at the former landfill, which include the diversion of Jonathan Creek, were finally completed in March 2010 at a cost of $3 million. In addition to resolving this major river pollution issue, the court’s decisions had important implications on Canadian case law, most notably in reiterating the obligation of consultants and their recommendations to fully comply with our nation’s environmental laws.