Court adjourned until October for wind turbine, Environmental Protection Act charges
The Attorney General is considering taking over the case
Court proceedings in a controversial fight between Chatham-Kent residents and the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks have been adjourned until October 30.
The province and three wind turbine companies have been charged under the Environmental Protection Act. The Ontario Court of Justice determined in July there were grounds to believe environmental offences had been committed.
Residents claim their drinking water has been contaminated by the construction and development of wind turbine farms in Chatham-Kent.
Eric Gillespie, a Toronto-based lawyer acting as legal counsel for complainants in this case, explained proceedings at Provincial Offences Court in Blenheim, Ont. on Wednesday were "starting to get the legal process organized."
Gillespie added one of the wind companies involved in this case "has not been formally provided with notice of this going on."
"The court has asked us to look into that and we're already speaking to the court administration about getting that cleared up," he said.
Counsel for Ontario Environment Minister Jeff Yurek attended court Wednesday in response.
In a statement, Yurek's office reiterated the decision to approve the wind projects was made under the previous Liberal government.
Yurek is named in his capacity as Environment Minister in the charges.
"The previous Liberal government consistently showed a lack of respect for the people of Ontario," said Andrew Buttigieg, press secretary for the minister. "The deputy premier and minister of health has already taken action and formed an expert panel of independent third-party professionals to carry out a health hazard impact assessment."
According to Buttigieg, that panel held its first meeting July 25 and a final report is expected by the end of next year.
The charges have not been investigated or proven in court to date. The Attorney General is considering taking over the case.
Gillespie said the involvement of the Ministry of the Attorney General is "perfectly normal."
"The Ministry of the Attorney General had lawyers present here and that is because any private prosecution anywhere in Ontario is always reviewed by the ministry, and they decide … whether to intervene or not," he said.
Gillespie also acknowledged concerns about a potential conflict of interest in this case, given that charges have been laid in part against a sitting cabinet minister and the province's Attorney General can determine whether legal proceedings will continue.
"The system is designed so that the Ministry of the Attorney General is a separate entity from the Ministry of the Environment and the other ministries, and that's one of the reasons that you can actually lay a charge against the government through the government's court system," he said.
He added significant public scrutiny is expected to be aimed at this case "because the industrial wind question has been captivating people all across the province for about a decade now."
- A previous version of this story stated that Environment Minister Jeff Yurek's office believed the decision to approve the wind projects was made under the previous Liberal government. It is a fact that the wind projects were approved under the previous Liberal administration. Additionally, a previous version of the story reported that Jeff Yurek was named on his own in the charges. He was named in his capacity as Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.Aug 14, 2019 7:28 PM ET
With files from Dale Molnar