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An oil refinery with many smoke stacks is lit up at night.

Photo by Garth Lenz


Holding Imperial Oil to account for breaking pollution regulations

Imperial Oil Limited v. Director, Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks

June 21, 2021

On 11 occasions between July and October 2019, Imperial Oil released excessive amounts of sulphur dioxide from its refinery at Sarnia, Ont. Sulphur dioxide is highly dangerous to people with breathing and heart problems and is an acute respiratory toxicant.

Ontario’s Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks levied penalties totaling $801,908.80 against Imperial Oil for releasing sulphur dioxide in amounts greater than allowed by an air quality regulation under the province’s Environmental Protection Act. Imperial Oil initially challenged these penalties by appealing to the Ontario Land Tribunal but later withdrew its appeal and paid the penalties in full.

Exposure to high levels of sulphur dioxide is known to cause respiratory distress, especially in vulnerable populations. A recent report found that children born in Sarnia are more likely to develop asthma than those in other parts of southwest Ontario due to the high levels of air pollution in the area.

The Aamjiwnaang First Nation’s reserve near Sarnia, Ont. is surrounded by an industrial complex known as Chemical Valley due to the high concentration of petrochemical facilities. Pollution levels in Chemical Valley are among the highest anywhere in Canada, an injustice that has been recognized by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, World Health Organization, and the UN Human Rights Council.

Ecojustice intervened in the case on behalf of two members of Aamjiwnaang First Nation, Arnold Norman Yellowman and Vanessa Gray, to make sure that Imperial Oil was held to account for releasing dangerous levels of sulphur dioxide into the air and that the penalties against the company were upheld.

Over Imperial Oil’s objection, we successfully helped our clients gain full participatory rights in the appeal. After our clients and the Aamjiwnaang First Nation received full participatory rights, Imperial Oil later withdrew its appeal and paid the penalties in full.

Holding companies like Imperial Oil to account when they violate environmental regulations is an important first step towards addressing the systemic environmental injustice experienced by our clients and other members of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation. This case sent a message to other petrochemical companies that polluting is not free, and that they will be held to account for breaking environmental regulations.

Ecojustice staff

Ian Miron
Zachary Biech
Bronwyn Roe


Arnold Norman Yellowman

Vanessa Gray

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