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N.S. to hire environment prosecutor to 'hold people and companies accountable'

HALIFAX — Environmental offences will soon be the specific focus of a new prosecutor to be hired by the Nova Scotia government.

A dedicated prosecutor will help the government "better hold people and companies accountable when they break the law," Environment Minister Iain Rankin said in a statement Wednesday.

The prosecutor would handle cases related to the Environment Act, food safety, public health, meat inspection, fisheries and aquaculture, animal welfare, natural resources and the fur industry.

"We have about 40 different pieces of legislation that we are responsible for, and of course all of the regulations that are underneath all of that legislation," deputy environment minister Frances Martin told the legislature's public accounts committee Wednesday.

"The public prosecutor will be independent and will make judgment on which cases come forward."

Outside the committee, Martin said the timing of the announcement was coincidental with her appearance to discuss the environmental assessment process for the proposed effluent treatment plant at the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County.

She said the mill has been the subject of 12 "actions" by the department since 2012.

"We have been working on an agreement with the public prosecutor for a number of months now," she told reporters.

Martin said the idea for the prosecutor is based on a similar position in the province's Labour Department.

The recruitment process is to begin immediately for the new position, developed jointly by the Public Prosecution Service and the Department of Environment.

The province said it would regularly post an online list of environmental offences that have been prosecuted.

Areas of focus for the prosecutor will include breaches that put rivers and streams, water supplies, parks, protected areas, the fishery and human health at risk.

The Environment Department said its staff had carried out more than 22,400 inspections and audits in fiscal 2016-17, and issued more than 5,500 enforcement actions.

Those actions included warnings, directives, compliance orders, summary offence tickets, and court cases.