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When an energy-related incident occurs or when we discover a noncompliance, it’s our job to understand what happened and why and to determine if enforcement action is required. To do this, we often conduct an investigation.

Our investigators gather evidence to piece together the facts and determine if a licensee acted with due diligence. They are law enforcement officers, also known as Peace Officers, who have the authority to apply for search warrants, lay charges, and serve court summonses.

After we’ve closed an investigation, we’ll publish information summarizing our findings on our Compliance Dashboard, which may include an agreed statement of facts or our decision letter to the company outlining the outcome of the investigation and any enforcement action taken.

An investigation can take between three months and two years, depending on the complexity of the situation.

How We Conduct an Investigation

Not all issues are investigated. To determine whether we will conduct an investigation, we consider a number of factors:

  • Did the company knowingly provide false information?
  • Was there deliberate or reckless disregard of the law?
  • Did the issue cause irreparable damage to environment or people?
  • Has the company repeatedly failed to provide information or conduct an activity?
  • Does the company have a history of related noncompliances?
  • Was there unauthorized production, operation, or construction?

If one of more of the factors apply, our investigators conduct an initial review where we verify the responsible party and identify if there is evidence that suggests that rules were actually broken. Our investigators also consider whether the issue was due to uncontrollable circumstances, such as vandalism or an unforeseeable weather event.

After we open an investigation and notify the company, we post the general details of the investigation to the Compliance Dashboard. The information that we can provide is limited in order to protect the legal process and our ability to pursue all enforcement options.

Every investigation involves gathering the facts, examining the potential causes of the issue, and determining whether rules have been broken. There are three phases of an investigation:

  • Phase 1: Evidence Collection
  • Phase 2: Analysis
  • Phase 3: Enforcement Decision

Phase 1: Evidence Collection
The initial phase of an investigation involves gathering information about the incident, such as the timeline of events, incident response activities, standard operating procedures, sampling and monitoring data, and witness statements. To gather this information, investigators conduct site visits, interview people, and review historical and background information. This part of the process takes time and is often the longest of the three phases.

Phase 2: Analysis
Once we have the facts, we analyze the information to help answer important questions, such as the following:

  • Did the incident or issue have an adverse effect on the environment or public safety?
  • Did the company fail to report required information?
  • Did the company intentionally provide false or misleading information?
  • Was the incident or issue preventable?
  • Is there enough evidence to prove the company failed to comply with legislation or a condition of their approval?
  • Did the company take the necessary steps to prevent the incident from occurring?

Phase 3: Enforcement Decision
After our review and analysis of the information we collected, we determine if any rules were broken. If so, we will take enforcement action. Our enforcement actions might include

  • warning letters,
  • administrative penalties,
  • orders (legal documents that instruct specific actions), and
  • prosecutions in provincial court.

Some investigations may be closed without issuing enforcement action if we determine that the responsible parties took all the necessary steps to prevent the incident from occurring, or if the investigation is inconclusive (there was insufficient evidence).

When an enforcement action is issued, we post our decision on the Compliance Dashboard under the Noncompliance & Enforcement tab.

Based on the findings of an investigation, the AER will identify ways to improve industry practices to prevent the incident or issue from happening again.

Court Proceeding

If charges are laid, the investigation moves to a courtroom. The Crown prosecutor and defence counsel review the AER’s investigation file and ultimately present their cases to the court. At the end of the proceeding, it’s the court’s responsibility – not ours – to decide whether the company is guilty. As with any court case, companies can appeal certain decisions. Any penalty issued to a company is also decided by the judge; it usually includes a monetary fine that is paid to the AER.

Creative sentencing is another option and encompasses a wide range of penalties. The court can require companies to take steps to prevent further harm, publish the facts related to the conviction, submit additional reports, provide compensation to affected parties, or perform community service. The court may also divert a portion of an assessed fine to special projects that have a connection with the offence. For example, projects may include developing air monitoring programs in areas with air quality concerns, programs that focus on incident prevention, or internship programs to conduct environmental research.

While the court is responsible for outlining the factors that must be considered for creative sentencing projects and completion timelines, it is the AER’s responsibility to determine the project specifics through a competitive bid process and ensure that the court’s order is met. The AER is also responsible for holding the funds paid by the company for the project, in trust.

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If you have questions, please contact our Customer Contact Centre.