P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture defends farm convicted in relation to fish kill

The P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture has come to the defence of Brookfield Gardens, following a conviction in September related to a fish kill.

"When you get three and four inches of rain in an hour, I don't care how big a buffer zone you have," said David Mol, federation president. "You're not going to stop the power of water."

Mol addressed a group of about 20 farmers who attended Tuesday's sentencing hearing for Brookfield Gardens in Charlottetown Provincial Court. 

Brian Higgins/CBC

The company was found guilty of allowing the release of a deleterious substance into a waterway in violation of the federal Fisheries Act, in connection with a fish kill in North River in 2014. At Tuesday's hearing, the Crown prosecutor called on the judge to fine the family-owned company $175,000 to $200,000. The defence requested a $5,000 fine.

"This case has been going for four years, going on five years. I'm thinking, I'm tired," said Eddie Dykerman, one of the owners of the company. "It was a good experience for me to have the support of fellow farmers."

Brookfield Gardens had been acquitted in provincial court in 2015, but the case was sent for a new trial by the P.E.I. Court of Appeal.

More than a 1,000 dead fish were collected from a 3.5-kilometre stretch of North River in August 2014.

Steve Bruce/CBC

In a news release Tuesday morning, the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture argued the conviction shows the standard set is too high.

"The law Brookfield was convicted of breaking, is ... being interpreted to state that Brookfield Gardens and any person needs to guarantee that no harm will come to the environment, even in the event of a severe rain storm," said the federation.

Brian Higgins/CBC

The federation proposed a task force, including the federal and provincial governments, to examine how both the environment and farmers can be protected given the reality of climate change.

Malpeque MP Wayne Easter attended part of Tuesday's sentencing hearing.

When asked what he would recommend to his government colleagues he said, "My own recommendation would be to apply some common sense to the issue ... There has to be some area of judgment in these extreme weather situations."

In handing down his decision in the case in September, Judge John Douglas said, "It is not a defence to state that proper measures were not feasible ... One measure was to not plant row crops at all when environmental risk could not be properly addressed."

The judge will decide the amount of the fine in coming weeks.

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With files from Brian Higgins