Our government places great importance on spill prevention and reporting in Ontario. Pollutant spills can wreak havoc on our natural landscapes and create serious community hazards. As a result, individuals who own or control pollutants are expected to follow strict spill reporting requirements in Ontario and, when a spill occurs or is not reported, can face significant liability.

This blog post will discuss the regulatory framework for addressing spills and spill reporting in Ontario, including spill prevention obligations and potential liability issues. 

Spill Reporting in Ontario under the Environmental Protection Act

The Environmental Protection Act governs spill reporting obligations in Ontario, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.19. This piece of legislation provides a regulatory framework for protecting and conserving Ontario’s natural environment by setting requirements for reporting and addressing spills. 

Below, we’ll discuss the relevant provisions of the Environmental Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.19, that apply to spills and spill reporting in Ontario. 

What is a “Spill”? 

What is a “spill” for your spill-reporting obligations in Ontario? Spills are defined under Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.19

Specifically, when used about a pollutant, a spill is defined in s. 91(1) as “a discharge, (a) into the natural environment, (b) from or out of a structure, vehicle or other container, and (c) that is abnormal in quality or quantity in light of all the circumstances of the discharge…” 

A “pollutant,” in the context of a spill, is a contaminant other than heat, sound, vibration, or radiation. 

Note that the definition in the Environmental Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.19 does not apply to the disposal of animal waste in the context of normal farming practices (s. 91(4)). 

Spill Prevention Requirements in Ontario

Prevention is the best approach for minimizing the risk of a spill occurring. Consequently, s. 91.1 of the Environmental Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.19 requires prescribed persons (namely, those who operate plants or landfill sites that handle or discharge certain hazardous materials) to create and actively implement plans to prevent or reduce their risk of spills and to create plans relating to notifying the relevant parties in the event of a spill and ensure that they have the appropriate equipment, material, and manpower to respond when a spill occurs. 

If you are unsure whether spill prevention obligations apply to you, be sure to speak with an experienced environmental law lawyer for guidance. 

When Must a Spill Be Reported? 

A spill must be reported immediately by someone who knows or ought to have known that a spill has occurred (Environmental Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.19, s. 92(2)). By “ought to have known,” the legislation contemplates situations where a person may have been negligent or reckless regarding monitoring a situation that would lead to a spill. 

Who Must an Individual Report a Spill To? 

When a person is obligated to report a spill, they must notify several parties regarding the circumstances of the spill. Specifically, the reporting person must report the spill, the circumstances in which the spill occurred, and any steps taken to control the spill to the following parties: 

  • The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks; 
  • The municipality or regional municipality in which the spill occurred; 
  • The owner of the pollutant (if the owner is someone other than the person reporting the spill); and
  • The person who has control of the pollutant (if the person does not have control of the pollutant but knows who does). 

What Happens After a Spill is Reported? 

Once a spill is reported, the owner of the pollutant involved in the spill and the person who controls the pollutant (if different) must take steps to prevent or eliminate any adverse effects resulting from the spill and restore the natural environment (s. 93(1)). 

During this time, an environmental officer will also assess the spill and any associated impacts, document the steps taken, monitor the required cleanup activities, and advise the persons involved.

What Happens if a Spill is Not Reported? 

Individuals who fail to report a spill promptly may face serious consequences, including fines and penalties depending on the nature of the spill and contaminant. 

Liability for Spills in Ontario 

The Environmental Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.19 creates “strict liability” for spills, meaning that a person who owns or controls a pollutant may be held liable for the spill’s effects even if it occurred accidentally.

Furthermore, certain entities have the right to compensation for spills in Ontario, depending on the nature of the spill and the steps taken to report and rectify it. 

For example, the Crown (in right or Ontario, Canada, or any other party) has the right to compensation from the owner or person who controlled a pollutant involved in a spill for any loss or damage it incurs because of a spill that causes (or is likely to cause) an adverse effect), or for an individual’s neglect in failing to carry out their spill reporting obligations or other duties related to spills under the Environmental Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.19 (s. 99).

The Director and the municipality in which the spill occurred may also require the owner or person who controls the pollutant to pay reasonable costs or expenses incurred by the government relating to the spill or attempts to restore the natural environment (s. 99.1 and 100.1). 

Beyond the strict liability imposed by the Environmental Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.19, the owner or person who controls the pollutant may face further legal repercussions in civil law (for example, if the spill impacts a neighbouring property, the owner of that property may sue for damages). 

Final Thoughts on Spill Reporting in Ontario

If you work with potential pollutants, you must consider your obligations under the Environmental Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.19. Not only are you required to create plans to reduce the risk of a spill occurring, but you also need to have a plan in place (and understand your spill reporting obligations) if a spill occurs. 

Understanding your spill prevention and reporting obligations can result in significant penalties. Therefore, if you are uncertain about your responsibilities in this area, speaking with an experienced environmental law lawyer is critical. 

Experienced Ontario Environmental Law Lawyers Serving Ottawa

At Tierney Stauffer LLP, our team is committed to helping clients navigate the complex environmental regulation landscape. We have the knowledge and experience to assist clients with environmental law and regulatory issues, educate them on their responsibilities and obligations, and help clients achieve sustainable and responsible solutions for their businesses. 

For help understanding your environmental regulatory obligations, call us at 1-888-799-8057 or contact us online to set up a free consultation. 


Fax: 613-728-9866
510-1600 Carling Avenue
Ottawa, Ontario
K1Z 0A1


Toll-Free: 1-888-799-8057
340 Second Street East
Cornwall, Ontario
K6H 1Y9


Toll-Free: 1-888-799-8057
556 O’Connor Drive
Kingston, Ontario
K7P 1N3

North Bay

Toll-Free: 1-888-799-8057