Charges over wind farms against Ontario environment minister withdrawn
Woman alleged work on several wind projects that began in 2017 contaminated her home's well water.
TORONTO — A southwestern Ontario woman has lost a bid to take the province to court over some of its clean energy projects.
Crown prosecutors have withdrawn charges against Ontario’s environment minister, government staff and three companies involved in building wind farms.
A spokesman for Environment Minister Jeff Yurek says Crown lawyers cited lack of evidence in their decision to drop the charges.
They had stemmed from a private prosecution launched in July by Chatham-Kent resident Christine Burke, who alleged work on several wind projects that began in 2017 contaminated her home’s well water.
Burke alleged the parties named in her complaint broke the law by failing to take “reasonable care” to prevent the contamination as the wind farms were installed.
Yurek’s office says that while the minister was charged, the decision to approve the wind projects was made by the previous Liberal government.
Engie Canada, Pattern Energy Group and Samsung Renewable Energy were all also charged in relation to their work building the East Lake St. Clair Wind Farm and North Kent 1 Wind Farm.
Any person in the province can bring a private prosecution by appearing before a justice of the peace and swearing information under oath about an alleged violation of the law.
The justice of the peace must then determine if there are “reasonable and probable grounds” that offences may have been committed.
Burke’s lawyer, Eric Gillespie, said his client was surprised by the crown’s decision and may pursue other legal options including an appeal.
Gillespie said he had provided more than 1,000 pages of disclosure and offered to give more evidence to the Crown prosecutor, but received no reply.
He called the withdrawal of the charges by one branch of the Ontario government against another “very disturbing.”
“It’s kind of like having the fox in charge of the hen house,” he said.
Yurek’s office said the Health Ministry has formed an expert panel to carry out a health hazard impact assessment in the area. That group has been meeting regularly since July 2019 and will issue a final report by the end of 2020.
“This government and I will always take the public’s concerns about wind projects very seriously and will continue to stand with the families living in Chatham-Kent to make sure what happened under the previous Liberal government never happens again,” Yurek said in a statement.