Why Municipality of Yarmouth is changing the way it will enforce illegal dumping rules

Violating the bylaw now will come with a fine of up to $5,000 if a resident's name is found in the dumped materials. (CBC - image credit)
Violating the bylaw now will come with a fine of up to $5,000 if a resident's name is found in the dumped materials. (CBC - image credit)

The Municipality of Yarmouth is changing the way it enforces the rules around illegal dumping.

Last week, officials said the municipality would enforce the reverse onus clause of its solid waste bylaw starting April 1.

In a statement, the municipality said that a person whose name or address is found in the illegally dumped waste is deemed to own the material.

If they fail to prove someone else dumped the garbage, they'll be on the hook for cleanup and served with a summary offence ticket that comes with a fine of up to $5,000.
John Cunningham, Yarmouth's warden, told Maritime Noon the municipality has been seeing a "steady increase" in illegal dumping of everything from household garbage to appliances and furniture.

"Just this past fiscal year… there have been 68 separate reports of illegal dumping across the municipality," Cunningham said. "That includes our beaches, our wharves, outside of our parks, our back roads. It's happening everywhere across the municipality."

Cunningham went on to say mailed warnings did nothing to curb illegal dumping and added that the bylaw has been on the books since August 2020.

The bylaw states that "in the absence of evidence to the contrary, if any waste which is deposited or placed in contravention of this by-law bears thereon identifying information connecting that waste to a person then that person shall be deemed to have deposited or placed the offending solid waste or caused or permitted it to be so deposited or placed."

The reverse onus provision requires an accused person to prove or disprove something, essentially presuming them guilty until proven innocent. Previously, there has been concern about the use of the provision violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"I think that it's unconstitutional," said Yarmouth resident Brianne Wright. "I don't think it's right to pass the buck off to … property owners to deal with the dumping problem.

"I don't see how that's going to help deter dumping because the people that are dumping are still going to dump their stuff."

Wright said news of the bylaw has her rethinking her plans to purchase property in the municipality.

As to concerns about the provision's legality, Dalhousie University law professor Wayne MacKay said use of reverse onus in this case doesn't infringe on any Charter rights.

"The section of the Charter guaranteeing the presumption of innocence — which is also therefore opposed to reverse onus that requires you to prove your innocence — only really applies, in most cases, in criminal matters and in some cases other penal matters that are sort of what we call in law quasi-criminal," MacKay said.

He added that since the punishment for breaking the bylaw does not result in serving any jail time, it doesn't violate any Charter rules or other federal law.

Jean Laroche/CBC
Jean Laroche/CBC

Cunningham said he doesn't expect there to be any backlash once the enforcement goes into effect, noting that the neighbouring Municipality of the District of Shelburne has long used the reverse onus provision for dumping with great success.

"My understanding from Shelburne, a lot of people own up to what they've done because they've been caught," Cunningham said. "We'll have to take it one step at a time."