Keeping track of polluters in a country as large as Canada poses a serious challenge. Truckloads of hazardous waste cross the border with the U.S. every day, logging companies work near protected wildlife, and smoke from factories fills the air; but the Canadian government has a new weapon in the fight against polluters. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports on Canada’s growing team of environmental spies:
Keeping track of polluters in a country as large as Canada poses a serious challenge. Truckloads
of hazardous waste cross the border with the U.S. every day. Logging companies work near
protected wildlife. And smoke from factories fills the air. But the Canadian government has a
new weapon in the fight against polluters. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly
reports on Canada’s growing team of environmental spies:
“We’re just coming up to this facility on the right-hand side here now.”
Brad May slows down and scans the area surrounding a squat concrete building. It’s owned by a
company that was once under suspicion for illegal dumping. We’ve come here so that May can give
a sense of what happens when he places a company under
“As you can see, its a fairly old factory in a fairly industrial area in the north of Toronto
involved in the recycling and reconditioning of containers used for paints and coatings and
lubricants and that sort of thing.”
May pulls into a nearby driveway obscured by weeds. As he sips a cup of coffee, he looks like a
typical investigator – right down to the khaki uniform. The guy in the back seat, however,
probably wouldn’t get a second look. He’s wearing jeans and
a plaid shirt. And he lets May do most of the talking. His name is Mark Pomeroy. And, not
surprisingly, he’s the spy. Out on surveillance, he doesn’t have much to say. But he does point
out an 18-wheeler that’s
parked a shipping container in front of the building.
“You’ll notice here you have a container and the container has various bunch of
numbers on it. That’s very good information. What shipping line did it arrive from, who’s hauling
it as far as the carrier is concerned and you can find out if the items they’re receiving would
indeed be something we’d be interested in looking at as far as a potential violation is
Pomeroy searches for trends in industries where there’s an incentive to pollute.
For instance, if the price of pork drops, he’ll watch for hog farmers looking for a cheap way to
dump their manure, or mechanics might be offering great deals on freon, a highly regulated
chemical that’s used in
old air conditioners. That could prompt a visit to some local garages in search of illegal
imports. A lot of times, Pomeroy teams up with customs officers, the police and
Environment Canada investigators.
He says his job is different than that of a typical officer. He tries to anticipate the next
wave of environmental crime.
“Whereas they might focus on one specific case, intelligence would look at that and say, you’re
dealing with this type of a problem, is that prevalent with these types of companies…which in turn would say, okay inspections, don’t just
focus on this particular company. Look at A,B,C,D companies also.”
Here in his office, Pomeroy locks the door before he settles into a comfortable chair.
There’s a bit of a James Bond feeling here.
Secrecy is highly valued.
There’s even white noise piped throughout the building, to reduce the chance of being overheard.
As he talks about whistleblowers and anonymous tips, it’s clear that Pomeroy loves his job.
“I like law enforcement. I find it kind of a stimulating challenge to see somebody who thinks
they’re so smart that they’re doing this and they’re getting away with it, and it’s very gratifying to
actually go after that type of a person, exposing them and if it’s a violation, prosecuting
Pomeroy is one of six environmental spies in Canada and part of the only environmental
intelligence unit in the world.
The unit was created in 1998 to improve enforcement of the new laws enacted under the
Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
It’s a big job, but for Pomeroy, the best part is when he’s working in the field.
He cultivates informants – looking for internal whistle blowers and unhappy competitors. And
he’ll trail suspicious cars and conduct drive-bys on companies to gather information. Pomeroy
says his main goal is to find the big fish operating in the shadows of an industry.
“The big thing for an intelligence officer is to look at the unknown community. Are there people out there
who have never come forward and gone through the process of registering with us or gone
through the licensing or noticing permits? It’s up to me to see if they are actually out there
are they circumventing our regulations.”
But Pomeroy has been hampered by the fact that he’s the only environmental spy in the province
That’s soon to change. He’ll be joined by a second spy as Environment Canada doubles the size
of its intelligence unit.
That’s welcome news for environmentalists like Jerry DeMarco. He’s the managing lawyer with
the Sierra Legal Defense Fund. And his group argues that the Canadian government is not
enforcing its own environmental laws.
The group filed a complaint under the North American Free Trade Agreement. And an internal
government report backed up their claims.
DeMarco says the new officers are arriving at a crucial time.
“They need more resources for two distinct reasons. One is they haven’t had enough to enforce
the laws that do exist and also there’s been the passage of several new laws and regulations in
past few years that also require enforcement staff.”
For instance, Canada is adding new chemicals to its list of toxic substances. That’ll mean more
work for the investigators who track them.
Mark Pomeroy acknowledges it’s still a fledgling operation. And he’s spending much of his time
building trust – with industry sources, law enforcement, and even environmental groups,
but he’s confident that trust will translate into valuable information – which will make it
for companies that continue to break the law.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.