Marine pollution is predominantly now governed by statute law but the common law can still have some application. The torts of nuisance, trespass and negligence and the Rylands v Fletcher doctrine still can have some application.
The main federal statutes that address pollution from ships are:
In addition, provincial pollution statutes may apply, although this is not clear.
Parts 8 and 9 of the Canada Shipping Act do a number of things. Specifically:
The Marine Liability Act does the following:
The Marine Liability Act will, at a future date, also enact and include the International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea, 2010, concluded at London on April 30, 2010 (the "HNS convention"). The HNS Convention will be addressed in Part 6 of the MLA and included as Schedule 9 to the MLA. The HNS Convention establishes a civil liablity and compensation regime similar to the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage but in respect of hazardous and noxious substances. The shipowner's liability under the HNS Convnention is limited to 100 million Special Drawing Rights (SDR) for bulk HNS and 115 SDRs for packaged HNS. The HNS Convention is not yet in force internationally and is therfore not yet part of Canadian maritime law.
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 is a comprehensive anti-pollution statute that is based upon the "polluter pays" principle. It creates an offence for, among other things, the disposal of pollutants at sea. The directors and officers, Master, Chief Engineer and ship owner are all required to take reasonable care to ensure compliance with the Act and are deemed to be party to and guilty of any offence. The maximum penalty is $300,000 and/or imprisonment of 6 months if the Crown proceeds summarily or $1 million and/or imprisonment of 3 years if the Crown proceeds by indictment. In the event of a spill, any person who owns or has charge, management or control over the substance or causes or contributes to the spill is jointly and severally liable to pay clean-up costs and costs of restoring the environment. The defences under the Act are limited but a due diligence defence is available for some offences.
The Fisheries Act prohibits the deposit of a "deleterious substance" in waters frequented by fish and creates both civil and criminal liability for such a deposit. The offence is subject to a maximum penalty of $300,000 and/or imprisonment of 6 months if the Crown proceeds summarily or $1 million and/or imprisonment of 3 years if the Crown proceeds by indictment. Civil liability is absolute and does not depend on negligence. There are again very limited defences.
The Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 prohibits the deposit of a substance that is harmful to migratory birds in waters frequented by migratory birds by any person or vessel and creates criminal liability for such a deposit. The offence is subject to a maximum penalty of $300,000 and/or imprisonment of 6 months if the Crown proceeds summarily or $1 million and/or imprisonment of 3 years if the Crown proceeds by indictment. Minimum fines of $500,000 and $100,000 are also created for vessels over 5000 tonnes. There is a due diligence defence available.
The database contains 21 case summaries relating to Pollution (Ship Source). The summaries are sorted in reverse date order with 20 summaries per page. If there are more than 20 summaries, use the navigation links at the bottom of the page.
Newfoundland Processing Ltd. v. The "South Angela",,  1 FC 154
The issue in this case was who was responsible for an oil spill that occurred at the Come By Chance Oil refinery. The spill resulted after the Defendant vessel had discharged its cargo of crude and was involved in a line draining process. The Court held that both the Plaintiff and Defendant were equally at fault. The Plaintiff was at fault in that the cause of the spill was a backflow from the refinery and there were no check valves in place which, although not required by law, would have made the Plaintiff aware of the backflow. The Defendant was at fault in that it had failed to close a valve which, if closed, would have prevented the backflow from entering the slop tank and overflowing into the sea. The Court further held that the contributory negligence of the Plaintiff was not a bar to recovery. In doing so the Court relied upon and adopted the reasoning of the Newfoundland Court of Appeal in Bow Valley (Husky) Bermuda v Saint John Shipbuilding Limited, (1995) 130 Nfld. & PEIR 92.
R. v. The "Front Climber",  N.B.J. No. 249, (N.B. Prov.Ct.)
The "Front Climber" pleaded guilty to a charge of pollution under the Canada Shipping Act. Approximately 25 to 30 litres of oil had been discharged in St. John harbour. The cause of the discharge was a failure to fully close a valve. The ship was fined $2,000. An interesting point in the case was whether the ship could be given an absolute or conditional discharge, in lieu of a fine. The Court held that the discharge provisions of the Criminal Code applied only to natural persons and were therefore not available to ships.
R. v. The "Argus",  N.B.J. No. 507
The ship "Argus" pleaded guilty to an accidental discharge of 3 to 5 barrels of oil into the waters of St. John harbour. The cause of the discharge was a crew member opening the wrong valve. The Court analyzed the various factors that should be taken into account in sentencing and ultimately ordered a fine of $23,000. An interesting issue in the case was whether the Crown could introduce evidence of prior convictions against ships in the same ownership as the "Argus". The Court held that the "offender" was the ship and not its owner and, therefore, prior convictions against sisterships were not admissible.