12/13/2011 10:29 EST | Updated 02/12/2012 05:12 EST

Scott Vaughan: Environment Watchdog Tells Feds They Need To Follow Up On Violations

OTTAWA - The feds may crack down on environmental delinquents, but Canada's environment watchdog says they don't do a good job following up.

A lack of follow-through is the main theme in Environment Commissioner Scott Vaughan's latest reports, being tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.

"Federal environmental laws and regulations need to be enforced to foster good environmental stewardship," Vaughan wrote.

He looked at how the federal government polices the shipment of dangerous goods, enforces Canada's flagship environmental law and shares its scientific research with decision-makers.

Vaughan was also tabling two studies on fisheries and environmental monitoring.

The reports on dangerous-goods shipments and environmental enforcement noted similar problems.

Tens of millions of dangerous products are shipped across Canada every year by road, rail and air. The cargo includes everything from oil and gas to chemicals and even explosives.

Transport Canada is responsible for enforcing regulations around shipments of dangerous products. But Vaughan found the department has not checked up on many cases of non-compliance.

Auditors reviewed 49 case files from inspections carried out between 2008 and 2010. More than half the files noted violations ranging from missing documentation to problems with the shipping containers.

And in most cases, the auditors found little or no evidence Transport Canada had checked that the problems had been fixed.

"Transport Canada does not know the extent to which organizations transporting dangerous goods are complying with regulations," the audit says.

The commissioner noted these problems are not new. An internal audit done more than five years ago flagged these same concerns.

Environment Minister Peter Kent says most dangerous-goods shipments get to their destination without any problems.

"We are proud of our record on the shipment of dangerous products, as 99.9 per cent reach their destination without incident," he said in a statement.

"We have already begun work to address the findings in this report, including a national risk-based inspection planning process which will create a harmonized and consistent framework throughout Canada."

The National Energy Board regulates oil and gas that flow through pipelines. Vaughan's team looked at 56 compliance reports from 2007 to 2010 and found little follow-up.

Nearly two-thirds of the agency's files flagged violations. But inspectors only checked up on seven per cent of those cases to see if corrective action had been taken.

When it came to enforcing the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, Vaughan found Environment Canada was not much better.

The auditors found that the department does not know enough about the people it regulates to know if it is targeting the highest-risk violators, or those who pose the biggest risk to human health and the environment.

"Many of the factors it considers in setting priorities for enforcement have nothing to do with risks to human health or the environment or with the past record of compliance of those regulated," the report says.

"Instead, some regulations are excluded from being priorities due to lack of adequate training for enforcement officers or lack of adequate laboratory testing to verify compliance."

The department has not followed up on half the warnings, tickets or other penalties it issues, Vaughan found.

The report on environmental science found Environment Canada does not do a good enough job sharing scientific findings with federal decision-makers.

NDP environment critic Megan Leslie accused the Conservatives of poor environmental stewardship.

"It seems to me that this government is not interested in managing the environment file at all," she said.

"I think that is extremely problematic, as we've seen from the commissioner's report, because it is putting the health and safety of Canadians at risk."