A lawyer for J.D. Irving, Limited has entered not guilty pleas to each of 15 pollution charges under the federal Fisheries Act related to alleged pollution from the pulp mill in Saint John.
Charles Whelly told the court the trial will likely take about six weeks.
He declined to comment outside the courtroom.
The charges allege the Irving Pulp and Paper Mill at Reversing Falls deposited a “deleterious” substance into the St. John River over a two-year period. The material allegedly dumped from the mill was not identified.
A deleterious substance is a harmful substance, said Robert Robichaud of Environment and Climate Change Canada.
“It is defined under the Fisheries Act as being a substance that’s harmful to fish, fish habitat or to humans that consume that fish,” said Robichaud, the operations manager for the New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island enforcement branch.
“So, in general, it’s essentially pollution getting discharged into the receiving environment.”
The charges follow a series of alleged incidents between June 2014 and August 2016.
Mary Keith, the JDI vice-president, said In a news release that the charges stem from issues the company itself reported.
“The charges are based on fish mortality rates in a laboratory test,” she said. “The laboratory test does not reflect what would actually happen in the real world. None of the incidents that resulted in the 15 charges resulted in any environmental damage. There was no fish mortality in the natural environment as a result of the incidents.”
The company will be back in court on Feb. 23, when a trial date will be set.
The minimum fine for a large corporation under the most recent version of the Fisheries Act is $200,000 for each violation, in cases where there has been a previous conviction. Irving has earlier convictions.
If Irving is found guilty of all 15 charges, the minimum penalty would be $3 million.
Irving Pulp and Paper’s previous convictions under the Fisheries Act were the result of incidents in February and October 2007 in which black liquor and green liquor were released into the river.
The two substances are byproducts of the pulp and paper process and are harmful to fish.
The company was fined $37,000 and $75,000 for those two offences.