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Offshore dumping case in Victoria shows limitations to Canadian law
A Norwegian shipping company steadfastly remains a no-show in Victoria court, and it remains to be seen if Canadian law has any power at all over foreign vessels charged with illegal offshore dumping.
Champion Tankers A/S out of Bergen, Norway, its ship M/T Champion and Robert Ruzic, presumably the captain, face four environmental charges related to dumping fish oil in Canadian waters.
The Vancouver-based lawyer for Champion Tankers was scheduled to submit a guilty plea today in Victoria provincial court, but failed to show up.
The court clerk told Judge Robert Higinbotham that in fact, no one has ever appeared for the defence in this case. According to court records, Champion Tankers has been scheduled for court hearings in Victoria seven times between last September and today.
Higinbotham, clearly annoyed, ordered federal Crown agent Tom Corsi to notify the company’s lawyers to be present in court on Monday. “We just can’t roll along without appearances,” Higinbotham said.
Corsi indicated a bench warrant had previously been issued for the company and the individual named in the charges.
David Jones, with Vancouver’s Bernard and Partners and who is representing Champion Tankers, said he couldn’t comment on the case, such as why the hearing was intended for a guilty plea or why counsel has never appeared for the defence.
Jones did say the case was "sensitive" and “the proceedings had never served the accused in Canada,” alluding to a possible jurisdictional limitation for the federal Crown to lay charges. It’s not clear any of the accused have ever set foot in Canada.
Ruzic, the ship, Champion Tankers and its parent company, Champion Shipping A/S, face two charges of improper disposal of a substance at sea, and two charges of improper deposit of substances harmful to migratory birds, under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act.
Environment Canada, the agency that investigated the case, told the News last year that a Transport Canada aircraft on a routine pollution surveillance flight reported that the M/T Champion discharged fish oil into the ocean, about 135 miles west of Vancouver Island, on July 30, 2010.
Investigators learned the ship didn’t have a permit to discharge waste in Canadian waters. Environment Canada said it doesn’t give permits to dump fish oil or waste from fish processing. The ministry wouldn't say how much oil the ship allegedly dumped.
The case is scheduled to resume Monday at 9 a.m. in Victoria provincial court.