Creating exceptions to regulations is a recipe for disaster

Jonathan Brun

Creating exceptions to regulations is a recipe for disaster.

If you can bypass a regulation with a special permit, what is the point of regulation? In the province of Quebec, home to 8 million people, it recently came to light that a refinery has been emitting arsenic above recommended levels for years. Their permit to continue these emissions was coming up for renewal in the fall of 2022 and it created a media firestorm. After some digging, high levels of arsenic were found in local schools, daycares, and in homes, which the refinery has now agreed to purchase. The public outcry led to further investigations that identified 89 companies in the province (article in French) that have the right to pollute above and beyond regulatory limits.

At Nimonik, we are big fans of well-designed regulations. Nimonik believes that good regulations and standards and well-intentioned companies are the foundation of progress. In our opinion, regulations and standards serve three core purposes including:

  • to drive behavior that would not otherwise occur;
  • to reward organizations that respect the letter and spirit of regulations and standards; and
  • to create a level playing field within an industry and jurisdiction.

To achieve these goals, it is important that regulators develop regulations that can realistically be met by industry, with time for industry to adapt to new standards. Regulations should be formulated in consultation with industry, the nonprofit sector, and technical experts. If regulators do their jobs properly, there should be few to no exceptions to regulatory requirements. The issue with exceptions is that once you issue them, they undermine the entire foundation of a regulatory regime.

In addition to undermining a regulatory regime, they also create a genuine injustice between companies that do not have the same requirements and their related costs. They also lead the public to think that the government and regulators are controlled and manipulated by industry. In short, exceptions to regulations are a very bad idea.

Nimonik is here to help organizations identify their obligations and build a plan to stay in compliance. We also help identify obligations and requirements in permits and internal corporate policies, procedures, and systems that a company has adopted to improve its operations. If you share our vision for compliance, contact us today at