Should Irving’s pollution fine go to an Irving-led project?

Just when you thought you’d heard of everything.

J.D. Irving Ltd. has pled guilty to polluting the St. John River with effluent from its Saint John pulp mill.  But the company’s lawyers are proposing a plea deal that would see Irving pay part of its fine to a salmon conservation company chaired by the pulp mill’s own co-CEO, James Irving.

“It just doesn’t pass the sniff test to me,” our Fundy Baykeeper, Matt Abbott, told the CBC on Oct. 17.

Irving Pulp and Paper was charged in December 2016 with 15 violations of the federal Fisheries Act for dumping harmful effluent into the St. John River — a national heritage river — between June 2014 and August 2016.

The proposed deal — which is being jointly recommended by the Crown and Irving lawyers — would see Irving pay $2.3 million to the federal Environmental Damages Fund — one of the biggest pollution fines ever — and $1.1 million to CAST (Collaboration for Atlantic Salmon Tomorrow), a project chaired by James Irving.

Fundy Baykeeper Matt Abbott

“So, at some point in the future, we can imagine a board meeting at CAST, where, as chair, Mr. Irving would have significant influence over how the money from his company’s pollution fine was spent. I doubt New Brunswickers would think that is fair or at all above board,” Abbott says.

“Of course, James Irving can give as much money as he wants to CAST, but fines for pollution in the St. John River should go to groups independent of James Irving.”

Not the first time

The Saint John pulp mill has three prior pollution convictions — in 1999, 2009 and 2010. Irving paid penalties ranging between $37,000 and $75,000 for those violations.

As if the proposed plea deal wasn’t bizarre enough, Irving said in court documents last summer that it intended to launch a Charter challenge claiming the pollution test used to charge the company — which has been used across Canada for decades — was unconstituional.

At the time, our Fundy Baykeeper said Irving was essentially claiming it had the “freedom to pollute.”

Provincial court Judge David Walker is expected to issue his decision to approve or reject the plea deal on Nov. 5.

We’ll bring you the latest then.

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