Guilty verdict in Syncrude trial
A judge found oil giant Syncrude guilty wildlife laws of causing the deaths of 1,600 waterfowl on one of the company's tailings ponds back in 2008.
Syncrude has maintained the company did everything in its power to
prevent the tragedy, but the court wasn't buying it. The company was convicted on both federal and provincial charges.
"Syncrude's conduct was not minimal or trivial," said Judge Ken Tjosvold. "Syncrude did not take every precaution to avoid the occurrence."
Syncrude was charged with unlawfully depositing a substance that is harmful to migratory birds in waters or an area frequented by migratory birds.
Back in May, Syncrude defence lawyer Robert White delivered his closing arguments in the case. And prior to that, White had asked a judge to throw out all of the charges against the oil company. But the judge dismissed the application."Certainly the decision today vindicates that position that it was appropriate to lay and pursue these charges," said Crown prosecutor Kent Brown.
Over the course of the nine-week trial, the Crown had called a number of witnesses, including first responders to the accident, environmental experts and bird migration researchers.
A key issue in the case revolved around when the company deployed cannons meant to scare the ducks off. The court ruled it did so much later than normal and well after other companies in the area.
Syncrude had entered a not guilty plea to both provincial and federal charges after the animals were found dead.
White did warn a guilty verdict would have a devastating influence on the oil industry because tailings ponds are necessary, licensed by the province, and are legal.
White now says an appeal is likely in the future.
"You appeal for only one reason and that is because you believe the judgment is incorrect," said White.
It's not yet known what kind of penalty Syncrude faces. The fines could be as much as $800,000. The company is still trying to get one of the two convictions thrown out. It argues the federal and provincial charges are too similar, so only one should apply.
The judge will hear those arguments on August 20th.
With files from Scott Roberts