Lee Friday – October 31, 2017
Orgaworld is a company which operates a waste treatment facility in London, Ontario, but it also emits offensive odours which affect residents and businesses in the immediate vicinity as well as others several miles distant. This has been an ongoing problem since 2007 when the plant opened. Despite numerous charges and fines levied by Ontario’s Ministry of Environment, Orgaworld continues to violate the law. After ten years of this nonsense, I think we can safely conclude that the government prefers to collect payoffs from Orgaworld rather than enforce the law.
Fines are a Cost of Doing Business
Orgaworld was fined $37,000 in 2012, $75,000 in 2013, including a victim surcharge of $15,000, then $250,000 in 2014, including a victim surcharge of $50,000. Disgusting odours persisted and Orgaworld was fined $1,125,000 on October 26, 2017 (including a victim surcharge of $225,000), as it pleaded guilty “to nine counts of discharging a contaminant — specifically odour — into the environment between 2014 and 2017.”
The victims of Orgaworld’s actions are the people who live and work in the surrounding community, and none of them received a penny of the so-called victim surcharge levied by the government. All fines go directly into government coffers.
When the 2013 fine was levied, Ontario’s Environment Minister Jim Bradley said “Environmental protection legislation protects communities and the environment. Breaking these rules can result in serious penalties and is an offence the ministry takes very seriously.” And speaking to the size of the 2014 fine, Kate Jordan, a Ministry spokesperson, said “it not only resolves this issue, but as “a significant penalty,” it acts as a deterrent to future problems.” If only it had.
These disingenuous assurances from Bradley and Jordan are just as offensive as the odours emanating from Orgaworld. The surrounding community has NOT been ‘protected’, and the fines have NOT been ‘serious’ enough to ‘deter’ further law breaking by Orgaworld.
Allan Tipping, one of the residents in the affected area, told me he was surprised this latest fine was not substantially higher, given Orgaworld’s continued defiance of the law. This is a valid observation, and we should ask the question: Who are the beneficiaries of this ongoing fiasco?
Orgaworld appears to be a beneficiary. They have been fined, yet they continue to operate. It would seem that from their perspective, these fines are simply a ‘cost of doing business’ i.e. there are still profits to be made after fines have been paid to the government. Thus, it appears the government is also a beneficiary because it retains the ‘fine money’ for its own use, as it simultaneously pretends to “protect communities and the environment.” However, residents of the community are not beneficiaries: their quality of life has suffered, they are often unable to spend time outdoors; property values are falling; other economic consequences have been felt; stress levels are high; none of them have been financially compensated for harm done. For ten years, residents have been the clear losers in this case.
Government Profits from the Stench
What would happen if fines were large enough to force Orgaworld to (a) invest in waste treatment technology which does not emit odours beyond the boundaries of its own property, or (b) cease operations entirely, or (c) relocate to a site in the middle of nowhere in order to avoid future complaints? Whichever option it chose, it is certain that Orgaworld would no longer be making financial contributions to government coffers.
The government refers to fines as a penalty for lawbreakers – that’s the propaganda. Notice that the government is unwilling to take sufficient action – close the plant! – to prevent further violations of the law. These facts support the theory that the government considers the fines to be an ongoing source of revenue for itself, while it has no intention of actually protecting the public or the environment. If you think this theory is cynical, what other theory can you offer which aligns so closely with the facts?
Orgaworld’s actions are merely a symptom of the disease. The disease is a government which refuses to protect citizens by enforcing the law.
We are taught that elected politicians are representatives of the people, so that when the government makes laws, it is really the people who are making the laws. Nonsense. Regular citizens have no influence over the process of law making and enforcement, while special interest groups have considerable influence. Thus, government decisions are always arbitrary.
You can say that politicians and bureaucrats are often corrupt, but you would be missing the point. Their actions are facilitated by the system within which they operate. It is the system of government that is corrupt, and it is corrupt by design. Moreover, the system cannot be reformed because there is a disconnect between the manner in which the government collects its revenue (coercive taxation) and the manner in which it delivers services (arbitrary decision making). This explains why so many residents are angry and frustrated over their inability to influence the process of law enforcement against Orgaworld. The government forcefully extracted resources (taxes) from the residents, but arbitrarily withheld the service (law enforcement).
Historically speaking, government law making and enforcement is a recent development. Think of laws made by the government as being ‘top-down law-making’, or Authoritarian Law. Think of laws made by the people themselves as being ‘bottom-up law-making’, or Customary Law (law established in recognition of evolving customs). Customary Law societies tend to enjoy high levels of peace and prosperity. This is historical fact, but you won’t read about it in public school textbooks. Government schools promote the superiority of Authoritarian Law.
Here is one example: Customary Law prevailed for centuries in medieval Ireland. In his book For a New Liberty, Murray Rothbard wrote “Preconquest Ireland was not in any sense a “primitive” society: it was a highly complex society that was, for centuries, the most advanced, most scholarly, and most civilized in all of Western Europe.”
When people made laws directly, they only made laws they were prepared to enforce with their own resources – no government – when the occasion arose. It was a very effective system, based on voluntary reciprocal agreements among the people. When an offence was committed, all members in the reciprocal group assisted the victim with law enforcement. Substantial incentives existed to obey the law and to enforce the law, unlike today’s governments where incentives for law enforcement are weak, as we have seen.
It is beyond the scope of this article to explore in detail the various aspects of these two different systems of law making, but I have written a series of essays on the subject, which you can find here.
Is There a Solution?
Consider this comment in 2012 from John Pieterson, one of the residents of the affected area: “We need to have city hall and the citizens of London get tuned into this.” City hall is largely useless, but Pieterson is right about the citizens of London.
Let’s talk about city hall. The Orgaworld case falls under the jurisdiction of the province of Ontario, but many residents feel the City of London may be better positioned to resolve the problem if city council passes an odour bylaw. However, as evidenced by a recent case in London, the city shares the province’s reluctance to enforce the law and protect the property of citizens. In this case, a man violated the city’s zoning laws by keeping livestock on his property. The animals strayed, eating hay and corn from neighbouring properties. Carcasses and large manure piles remained on the property for a considerable time. As a result, neighbouring property owners were subjected to a revolting odour and a massive infestation of flies. City hall laid charges against the man but he continued to violate the law, just as we have seen with Orgaworld. In fact, much to the dismay of his neighbours, City Council eventually rewarded the lawbreaker by approving his application for rezoning, thus allowing him to keep livestock and operate an abattoir on his property.
So, getting back to Pieterson’s comment, if we want law enforcement, citizens must “get tuned into this.” Victims need the support of other citizens who are not directly affected by the actions of lawbreakers. This never occurs today but it was standard practice under Customary Law.
We must work together. We have the power to change the system, but most people are unaware of their power, and unaware that the system is the problem. Moreover, they are unaware how much our system of Authoritarian Law is costing them. If the people wake up and inform themselves, the rewards in terms of enhanced peace and prosperity are significant.