by DAVE PINK
The Ontario Court of Justice will hear an appeal – probably later this year – from Oxford County pig farmer Eric Van Boekel, who had been fined $345,000 and sentenced to 30 days in jail on Jan. 12 in connection with charges under the provincial Nutrient Management Act.
The Ministry of the Environment had alleged that in two separate incidents Van Boekel allowed pig manure to drain into nearby water courses.
“I think the decision was wrong, and that’s why we’re appealing,” said Van Boekel’s lawyer, Ron Ellis of London. He said Van Boekel’s appeal would be handled by lawyer Dale Ives, also of London.
For now, the conviction and sentencing have been stayed – meaning that no action can be taken against Van Boekel until after the appeal is considered by the Ontario Court of Justice in Woodstock. The appeal was granted Thursday by Justice Marietta Roberts of the Ontario Court of Justice, but Roberts will not preside over the appeal, which is likely to be heard in October or November.
The ministry had contended that from April 21 to April 30 in 2007, Van Boekel allowed pig manure to flow into the Thames River adjacent to his farm operation in East Zorra-Tavistock Township. As well, the ministry charged that on May 2 and May 3 of 2007, manure from another Van Boekel pig farm operation in Norwich Township was allowed to run into Sweets Creek.
Van Boekel, however, says that in both cases his employees acted swiftly and responsibly to correct the problems, and that Justice of the Peace Jacob Bruinwood did not take into account the “due diligence” that had been exercised by his employees before passing sentence. Van Boekel added that the ministry was unable to prove its case that any damage was caused to either the Thames River or to Sweets Creek, which he says is only a drainage ditch that is dry for much of the year.
“I’m a first-time offender,” said Van Boekel. “These were two separate, isolated incidents.”
He said it stretches belief that any farmer would deliberately pollute the environment, and that any farmer would want to risk losing the manure. “This is not something you want to flush down a creek. It’s black gold to a cash crop farmer,” he said.
As well, he added, “They could not prove there was any damage, and there was no fish kill.”
Kate Jordan, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Environment, said the ministry made its case and that a conviction was registered. “He was found guilty and convicted,” she said. “Of course, he is within his rights to appeal.” She said the ministry is prepared to deal with the charges once a date for the appeal is set.
The charges had been laid against Van Boekel, the two companies that own the farms, and Van Boekel’s mother, Yvonne Van Boekel, who is the owner of one of those companies. BF