Environmental enforcement officers enforce provisions of the Fisheries Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. They conduct inspections to verify compliance with environmental legislation and investigate cases where violations are discovered. Environmental laws and regulations are designed to protect and foster a healthy and sustainable environment; environmental enforcement officers ensure these laws are not broken.
Imagine you are sitting at your desk filling out paperwork when you get a phone call from a concerned citizen. You are an environmental enforcement officer and this person is calling to report a suspicious vehicle parked on the side of the road next to the river. The person is concerned that the truck’s owner is dumping liquid waste into the river.
By the time you arrive at the site, the person and the vehicle are gone, but there are a number of plastic drums lying on the riverbank and colourful evidence of a spill along the banks. The dumper has also left footprints and tire tracks leading straight to the highway. This is obviously a situation you will have to deal with. As an environmental enforcement officer, you investigate illegal dumping like the situation you have found today.
After ensuring officer and public safety from possible chemical contamination, you start gathering evidence. You call the local RCMP detachment for assistance and ask the responding officers to take imprints of the footprints and tire tracks at the scene and collect fingerprints from the drums. You collect other evidence from the area, including samples from the drums, river water, and surrounding soil. You photograph the scene and canvass the area for witnesses, including the caller who alerted you to the crime. You will take all the evidence to your lab for processing and ensure the cleanup is initiated at the site. It is your job to find the person responsible and prove a crime has been committed so charges can be laid and the responsible party can pay for the cleanup.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an environmental enforcement officer:
Environmental enforcement officers work in a variety of locations, including:
In the office:
In the field:
Most environmental enforcement officers are employed by federal or provincial/territorial agencies responsible for environmental legislation and enforcement. Some environmental enforcement officers can find employment with private sector companies, consulting firms, or conservation authorities.
If you are a high school student considering a career as an environmental enforcement officer, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an environmental enforcement officer is a college technical diploma. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an environmental enforcement officer, the following programs are most applicable:
In addition to the above courses, many environmental enforcement officers take courses in law enforcement. It is not necessary to be certified in order to work as an environmental enforcement officer.
Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with business skills. The ECO Academy can help you build the essential skills needed for a successful environmental career. Learn more
There was never a “magic moment,” as Jason Kent calls it, when he decided to be an environmental enforcement officer. He always enjoyed hunting, fishing, and growing up in the vast wilderness of the Yukon. “Knowing I could spend time in the field doing the things that I enjoy set me in this career direction.” Today, with an applied degree in environmental management, Jason is an environmental enforcement officer with Environment Canada.
His job is about more than catching people abusing the environment, “It’s about making sure people take what they’re entitled to and leave the environment the way they found it, so everybody can enjoy it. It’s more about protecting rather than enforcing.” Each Environment Canada enforcement officer is assigned a specific area of responsibility. Jason is responsible for inspecting pulp and paper mills. When he’s in the field, he can be found inspecting mills, discussing infractions with management, or taking samples of the mill’s effluent to ensure they meet government environmental standards.
Jason loves interacting with the different groups of people and learning about new technology when touring facilities. “This is a job where you’re learning as you go. I don’t think you could ever know this job inside and out.” Back at the office, Jason spends his time sorting through technical reports and writing up environmental infractions. “I’m so busy with incidents and paperwork and database entry and tracking…I don’t spend nearly as much time in the field as I’d like.”
Another responsibility that takes away from Jason’s field time is regularly attending training sessions. But with the federal government constantly issuing amendments and new environmental regulations, this training is critical. Jason admits there’s a lot of responsibility with his job. Indeed, the workload can be overwhelming at times. “I’d like to spend five hours on every file I get, really investigating the ins and the outs, but you have to take into consideration the amount of work you have to do.” No matter how busy he gets, Jason’s primary goal remains the same: “I just want to make sure people appreciate the land like it should be appreciated. It’s my job to make sure that happens.”