The CKF plant is in Hantsport next to the Avon River. Photo: Google Satellite

A pulp plant in Hantsport that manufactures paper plates (Royal Chinet) and egg cartons out of recycled fibre is being investigated by officials with Environment Climate Change Canada (ECCC). Federal officials and RCMP officers armed with search warrants rolled up at the CKF Inc. Factory in unmarked vehicles on July 14 and proceeded to seize hard drives containing information about the mill’s activities. 

Contacted by the Halifax Examiner, ECCC spokesperson Brandon Clim would say only this:

“Environment and Climate Change Canada can confirm that there is an investigation underway at the Canadian Keyes Fibre (CKF) plant in Hantsport, Nova Scotia, in relation to potential violations under the Migratory Birds Convention Act. As the investigation is ongoing, we will not comment further at this time.”

CKF vice president Krista Mills was no more forthcoming. Asked by the Examiner why the Hantsport pulp mill was visited by federal government officials and the RCMP, she had this terse reply: 

“We are and have been cooperating with officers. We will comply with any and all requirements as they emerge. We have nothing further to add at this time.”

CKF Inc. is a pulp plant founded by Nova Scotia entrepreneur Roy Jodrey in 1933. It employs close to 100 people and makes packaging for the food service and grocery industry, much of which is biodegradable or compostable. Hantsport is one of five CKF packaging plants across Canada; CFK is part of the Scotia Investments group of companies that is privately-owned and still controlled by members of the wealthy and politically connected Jodrey family.

The water side of the CFK plant in Hantsport. Photo contributed by Darren Porter

Why CKF was targeted for a visit from the Mounties and federal Environmental officials is a mystery but here is what we have gathered so far. 

The Migratory Birds Convention Act is a Canadian law that contains regulations to protect migratory birds, their eggs, and their nests from destruction. The CKF Inc plant in Hantsport is located at the junction of the Avon River and Halfway River beside a tidal salt marsh that attracts thousands of seabirds every spring and fall. 

The area was designated by Environment Canada in 1987 as part of a protected shorebird reserve of more than 26,000 hectares stretching from Grand Pré in the north, to Hantsport and Windsor along the Minas Basin to the south. 

The  Ramsar Convention (named for a town in Iran) is a treaty that encourages governments to designate wetlands that are important for conserving biological diversity for inclusion on a “List of Wetlands of International Importance.” Environment Canada says the marshy area known as the Minas Basin Southern Bight supports up to 400,000 seabirds, including many varieties of sandpipers, plovers, and dowitchers. It is also a nesting ground for Great Blue Herons and cormorants. 

The sea birds feed on sand shrimp and small invertebrates called Corophium volutator living in the mud of the salt marsh. If the mud or the water is polluted, the birds could get sick or die. 

Mud samples taken

White scum in the water that fisherman Darren Porter found adjacent to the CKF plant in Hantsport. Photo contributed by Darren Porter

Early in July 2020, Hants County weir and gillnet fisherman Darren Porter was in his boat when he saw federal and provincial environment inspectors taking water and mud samples from the Halfway River next to the CKF plant. Porter was glad to see them because he says he was one of several people who called the Environmental Emergency phone line to report frequent sightings of oil or metallic-looking sheens on the river.

“I didn’t know where the oil or chemicals were coming from but I wondered if it might be from the plant which has been there a long time,” Porter told the Examiner this week. The CKF plant was built next door to Minas Basin Pulp and Power, which Scotia Investments closed in 2013.

“There was white stuff seeping out of the banks near the plant and the white stuff was already in the marsh, so it’s pretty gross,” he recalled. 

Last summer, Porter said he had a conversation with a federal environment inspector who seemed interested in obtaining more information about the inner workings of the CKF plant. Porter said the officer told him whistleblower legislation would protect the identity of anyone who came forward with information.

“The officer told me they had no interest in shutting down the CKF plant and no jobs would be lost,” said Porter, who has earned a reputation as an activist and protector of the marine environment. “They just want the pollution to stop because the oil is in all the marshes and it is affecting the birds.” 

Porter doesn’t know whether last week’s raid of the CKF offices is related to samples taken from the mud and the river by Environment officials last summer. If it is, he thinks COVID-19 restrictions may have prevented action from taking place sooner. Porter is hopeful there will be enforcement of federal regulations under the Migratory Birds Convention.

Asked if he has noticed oily sheens on the river so far this summer, the Hants County fisherman said he is seeing fewer.

“It’s definitely getting better but it’s still frigging bad,” said Porter. It’s his understanding CKF made some change or adjustment to its plant following the visit from Environment officials last summer. Porter said there was a noticeable improvement in water quality last fall, which has continued. 

The Examiner asked CKF directly whether it had made any adjustment to the plant since samples were taken last summer but CKF declined to answer that or any other question related to possible shoreline contamination. 

No charges have been filed against the company so far, and Environment Climate Change Canada is refusing to say what, if anything, they found in the samples gathered from the Minas Basin a year ago.

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. Old effluent storage tanks leaking, like those from mill up at Grassy Narrows in North-Western Ontario? Maybe not the same substance though. I think theirs is Mercury.

  2. Interesting story to read. Would be curious to know if an investigation was happening or happened wrt cause of the algae in Grand Lake. Lot’s of rumours but nothing in the media.