Environmental problem or environmental CRIME?

Toxic Criminology: Environment, Law and the State in Canada

Edited by Susan C. Boyd, Dorothy E. Chunn and Robert Menzies
Fernwood Publishing, 2002, 128pp

Reviewed by ERIN JOHNSON*

Toxic Criminology: Environment, Law and the State in Canada needs to be read by all individuals interested in the welfare of our environment. This book provides a uniquely Canadian perspective on environmental issues in terms of laws, legislation and enforcement in our country. It gives society the opportunity to get one step closer to developing a better understanding of the environmental issues within Canada and around the World. This book attempts to pave the way for a new ideology in today's society. One gains the perception that the term 'environmental issues' should expand to include the concept of environmental crimes, an idea that has been largely overlooked in Canada.

The editors, Robert Menzies, a professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University, Susan Boyd, a professor at the University of Victoria, and Dorothy E. Chunn, a criminology professor at SFU, open the book with an introduction that relates all of the inserted essays to the common theme of environmental crime. Typically, we have been raised to think of crime as referring to "street crimes (p10)" but the time has come to consider the concept of crime to include environmental crimes based on gender, race, class and social injustices. According to the editors, many of the environmental problems in Canada drastically affect ethnic minorities and females. Examples are given in First Nations of social injustices which the editors would like to see considered as crimes in a legal sense. In the Canadian legal system and within criminology itself, development has been slow in defining environmental crimes and social crimes. Many within the field themselves still see crime as strictly street crimes, and so progress has been slow in this area.

Toxic Criminology focuses on addressing a large number of issues to give a realistic picture of the situation in Canada with respect to environmental criminology. The contributors include environmental lawyer, Randy L. Christensen, Stuart Rush a lawyer of criminal, civil, labour and Aboriginal law, sociologist Melody Hessing, scientist Ted Schrecker, Corky Evans a logger and politician, and well-known environmentalist Elizabeth May. This provides the reader with a perspective from a wide range of interests on the environment and a variety of problems that are prominent across Canada.

This book begins by looking at the connections between capitalization, the free market, globalization and environmental consequences. Capitalism and consumer culture are the major driving forces of society in Canada. In Chapter 1, Melody Hessing points out that the capitalist social structure of Canada and other developing nations is essentially what is leading to environmental problems around the world. Market economics is anti environmental (p26) and has promoted the attitude amongst Canadians to buy more and more.

Our consumerist society promotes free trade, a practice that has spread across the continent of North America, making resources available to all. In Chapter 2, Ted Schrecker points out that this attitude has made Canadians afraid of putting environmental restrictions in place for industry since the potential for them to move elsewhere is always an option. The issue of social polarization can be attributed to this process of globalization (p25). The idea that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in developing worlds is beginning to be taken as a reality. As Schrecker suggests this has led to an increase in polarization in the living conditions between the rich and the poor because the rich can continuously afford to move away from pollution while poor must deal with long term health effects of pollution.

Although many of the authors are suggesting that the answers to environmental issues lie in politics and the legal system, in Chapter 3 Corky Evans criticizes environmentalists and their approach to environmental problem solving. Although he does not condone capitalism, he suggests that the global thinking of the capitalists needs to be adopted by environmentalists. Evans states that the problem is that environmentalists "think globally but act locally (p63)". He believes that the environmental movement has to adopt the successes of the capitalist movement in terms of utilizing and gaining the confidence of the political realm in order to make progress in today's society with environmental issues.

The book takes a turn and goes on to examine the social injustices and crimes committed against First Nations and Aboriginals in terms of treatment of the environment in situations such as logging and fishing. In Chapter 4, the problem of a "balance of convenience (p74)" having to be shown by Aboriginal peoples in order for courts to grant injunctions on logging industry on land which they wish to claim Aboriginal title are investigated. The interesting fact brought up by Stuart Rush is that courts often don't rule against commercial industry due to economic interest in terms of jobs for non-Aboriginal people in situations such as these. This is interesting because the environment isn't even considered in this type of conflict. The cost of losing habitat, ecosystems and the animals in these areas marked for clear-cutting is lost in the battle. If courts do find in favour of industry than the Aboriginals must be compensated, but even if the Aboriginals are compensated for the loss of the trees that might be on their land, the crime committed against the environment is forgotten.

Melody Hessing points a finger at Canada saying that we are responsible for much of the exploitation that is leading to environmental degradation in our own country. She relates this back to the process of globalization which has lead to increased trade export which has contributed to logging and fisheries collapse in Canada. Hessing suggests that Canada has been a "captive" of trade, bound in agreements such as NAFTA. With Canada being such an important country, rich in natural resources, we should be the leaders in terms of environmental regulations and laws. We need to ensure that ecological costs are incorporated into trade and guarantee that our valuable resources are being used in a sustainable way. Instead, the Canadian government has typically been slow in determining and enforcing any legislation or laws and according to author Randy Christensen, has been lagging behind in environmental laws and legislation in general. Christensen points out that although policies have been created, Canadians continue to deal with environmental issues in terms of a "deal and negotiate (p108)" manner rather than a "fines and prosecution (p108)" approach.

The final chapters examine in detail two environmental crimes essentially committed by the government and industry against the general public in such tragedies as the Sydney Tar Ponds (Chapter 5) and the Walkerton water crisis (Chapter 6). These problems were created in large part due to the lack of enforcement and legislation produced by the Canadian government. The writers investigate the concept of liability and the question of who is responsible for crimes against the environment and human health. Both of these major environmental problems have initiated a new type of Canadian government that is no longer based on a "climate of trust (p107)" which will hopefully lead to a more pro-active approach in terms of the environment.

Contributing author, Corky Evans suggests that the environmental effects of power abuse (p61) are the main theme of Toxic Criminology. He makes an outstanding point suggesting that nothing is sustainable in isolation (p65), but that in order to address environmental problems we need to use a collective approach that takes all of the strengths of current society and uses them to deal with pollution, global warming, collapse of fisheries etc. in Canada. This book is presented in a manner that allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about the issues offered and critically analyze the material that is being presented. Toxic Criminology is a thought-provoking book that not only makes you question Canada's concept of environmental crime but your own environmental practices as well.

*Erin Johnson is a graduate of Environmental Studies from Dalhousie University and journalism student at the University of King's College. She may be reached at eljohnso@dal.ca

The N.S. Dept of the Environment: punishing the environmental criminals

Comment by ERIN JOHNSON*

With the degradation of our environment becoming more apparent in everyday life, an expectation for the proper authorities to address these issues increases. Nova Scotians look to the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour for information and salvation from problems in the environment. But has the focus been directed in the wrong areas? In the recently published Toxic Criminology: Environment, Law and the State in Canada, a uniquely Canadian perspective on environmental issues in terms of laws, legislation and enforcement in our country are examined. This book attempts to pave the way for a new ideology in today’s society; the concept of environmental crime.

The Department of the Environment has been the main legislative and governing body with respect to environmental issues since its official establishment on September 1, 1973. On October 1, 2000, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Labour amalgamated to become the current Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour. Traditionally, labour and the environment have conflicted with one another and not worked as a team. This has raised the question in the minds of the public as to whether issues concerning the environment have been compromised. When one examines the business plan and the accountability report for 2001-2002, the accomplishments are impressive. But it is disheartening to note that of the six goals that are presented in these documents that only one is directly related to the environment. Goal number two is to "promote sustainable management and protection of the environment and natural areas."

Valerie Bellefontaine, communications director of the Department of Environment and Labour, points out that goal number one, "promote safe and healthy workplaces/work practices and safe buildings/equipment," also addresses "environmental aspects."

When asked about the goals outlined in these government documents, Ms. Bellefontaine says that the "goals are broad to touch on all sections of the department, since the Department of Environment and Labour is such a big department with such a broad mandate." She says that labour and environment "compliment one another" and that "regulatory issues bring them together." In terms of whether the environmental side of the department has suffered since the amalgamation, Ms. Bellefontaine says that "I have seen it become more focused." She says, "there have been 14 new people hired with specific expertise."

After reading Toxic Criminology, one gains the perception that government departments having such broad goals can’t solely address the environmental problems we face. The authors suggest that we must begin to focus more on developing the concept of environmental crime. An idea that has been largely overlooked in Canada. Typically, we have been raised to think of crime as referring to ‘street crimes’ but the time has come to consider the concept of crime to include environmental crimes based on gender, race, class and social injustices.

This brings us to the issue of power abuse examined in Toxic Criminology. The final chapters present in detail two environmental crimes that were essentially committed by the government and industry against the general public in such tragedies as the Sydney Tar Ponds (Chapter 5) and the Walkerton water crisis (Chapter 6). These problems were created in large part due to the lack of enforcement and legislation by the Canadian government. The writers investigate the concept of liability and the question of whom is responsible for crimes against the environment and human health. Both of these major environmental problems have initiated a new view of Canadian government that is no longer based on a ‘climate of trust (p107)’. This will hopefully lead to a more pro-active approach within the government in terms of the environment.

Authorities such as the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour still largely overlook the concept of treating environmental incidents in Canada as crimes. Toxic Criminology is a thought-provoking book that not only makes the reader seriously question the way environmental problems are handled in Canada, but presents a possible solution to the problem of environmental degradation by placing responsibility on those who pollute.