The Ontario Ministry of Environment is being accused of bias in its handling of a proposal to expand the Carp Road landfill after the release of emails in which an environmental officer suggested some people "exaggerated" or "lied" when complaining about bad smells from the landfill.
The emails, dating back to 2011 and 2012, were obtained through an access to information request by Olivia Nixon, a volunteer with a coalition of community groups opposed to the dump expansion.
Nixon had complained about odours coming from the Carp Road landfill in 2011, months before the landfill closed in September of that year.
Environment officer Greg Davis, in reviewing the letter, observed that the widespread reports of off-site odours had been largely resolved, and cast doubt on Nixon's claims.
"I feel these few people want the landfill site to smell at these locations to serve their purpose to fight the expansion plans of [Waste Management Inc.]," Davis wrote to colleagues at the ministry on June 8, 2011. "They have exaggerated the odour complaints and in some cases I would conclude they have lied about the odours."
Nixon complained to the ministry, saying if anything she had under-reported the odours.
"If we reported odour events from the landfill then there were indeed odour events from the landfill," she wrote in a letter to the district manager of the ministry.
Ministry says investigator should have stuck to facts
In a letter responding to Nixon's complaint, Steve Burns, the assistant director of the ministry for eastern Ontario, said he had no doubts about the veracity of her reports about odours.
Burns also said Davis should have limited his comments to the facts and should not have "attempted to draw inferences about ongoing odour reports or the individuals making the reports."
But he concluded that he was satisfied with how staff had handled and reviewed reports of smells from the site.
The ministry would not comment on Nixon's complaint, but they did confirm the authenticity of the emails and letters she had obtained.
Harold Moore, another volunteer with the group, said the emails were worrisome because it is the ministry who, along with the City of Ottawa, must determine whether to approve Waste Management Inc.'s proposed expansion of the landfill.
"I couldn't believe our odour complaints were not being taken seriously and in fact were called misinformation," said Moore.
Nixon believes the bias exists throughout the ministry.
"Why do we end up with projects like this new landfill ... that we know in 10 years is going to cause a lot of problems within the community? People will look back and say, 'How was this project ever approved?' Well it was approved because the MOE did not listen to the people in this community," she said.
Waste Management seeking approval on dump expansion
The company is currently seeking permission to expand its landfill in west Ottawa to accept 400,000 tonnes of waste per year for 10 years, but requires the ministry to approve the plan and the city to approve rezoning of the site.
Carolyn Andrew, director of the Centre of Governance at the University of Ottawa, said the issue is dependant on what stage the investigators are at in the process.
"If you are at the stage in the process that you are accepting people's complaints or protests, you do nothing but accept them as part of that process," said Andrew.
If the ministry and city approve the landfill expansion, it could be up and running in 2015.