Understanding Walkerton: Corporate Crime, Deregulation and the Neo-Liberal State

Laureen Snider, Queen's University

This paper is a case study and theoretical examination of the contamination of the water supply in Walkerton, Ontario Canada. In the spring of 2000 it was discovered that one of the wells supplying drinking water for the town of Walkerton had been contaminated by a deadly strain of e coli bacteria. While an immediate ban on drinking the water was issued, 11 people died and thousands of others became ill before the water was certified as drinkable once more. Several political inquiries and dozens of law suits followed and continue to this day. The privince of Ontario came late to neo-liberal downsizing, with the election of the Progressive Conservative government in 1995. Once in power the Conservatives immediately launched a programme of privatizing, deregulating and downsizing all government departments and services. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment was one of the hardest hit: its annual operating budget fell 45% from 1995 to 1997 the capital budget fell 81%, staff levels declined by 32% and the number of annual charges laid dropped from 263 in 1992 to 943 in 1997 (Globe & Mail, June 22, 1998: A1). The paper examines the links between government downsizing and environmental crime, the creation of the nonculpable corporate subject, and the theoretical implications of this for understanding and conceptualizing corporate crime.

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Updated 05/20/2006