Williams Lake (B.C.). As Federal Crown Prosecutors move today in B.C. provincial court to stay (i.e. shelve) MiningWatch’s private charges over the Mount Polley mine disaster, the mining watchdog is releasing the names of over 25,000 Canadians who have endorsed a petition urging the Trudeau government not to let those responsible off the hook for the biggest mining spill in Canada’s history. Local residents, regional groups, and First Nations support the effort to enforce the Fisheries Act.
The 25,000-strong petition is presented today in a demonstration in front of Williams Lake Court house. British Columbians and Canadians are invited to add their names to the petition, before the petition is delivered in the coming weeks to each of the federal ministers responsible for enforcing the Fisheries Act.
“We are deeply concerned that nearly three years after the disaster, and despite clear evidence of damage to water and fish habitat, no sanctions have been brought forward by any level of government,” states Ugo Lapointe, Canada Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada.
Angus Wong, Campaign Manager for SumOfUs, which sponsored the petition, adds: “Worse, Imperial Metals, the owner of the mine, did not even have to pay the full cost of the cleanup. Instead, British Columbians and Canadians picked up a big part of the tab.”
Lapointe adds, “This sets the wrong standards and sends the wrong signal to industry and other mines across Canada. It further undermines public confidence in the mining sector and erodes people’s trust in the ability of our regulatory system to effectively protect our environment.”
Bev Sellars, Chair, First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining, says, “While Environment Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the B.C. Conservation Officer Service have been investigating the spill since 2014, there has been a complete lack of results from this investigation to date. This is particularly troubling given that some potential offences have a limitation period of three years to be filed in courts.”
MiningWatch’s private prosecution, filed in October 2016, is the only one so far pushing governments to enforce their own laws over the massive dam breach and tailings spill. It is using a specific provision of the Canadian Criminal Code which allows any citizen to initiate a prosecution if he or she believes, on reasonable grounds, that a person has committed an indictable offence.
“These reasonable grounds clearly exist in this case under the Fisheries Act,” says Lilina Lysenko, litigation lawyer for MiningWatch. “The Public Prosecution Service of Canada Deskbook describes private prosecutions as “a valuable constitutional safeguard against inertia or partiality on the part of authorities,” particularly for public interest cases.”
Federal Crown Prosecutors did not provide any detailed justification as to why they deem staying the charges now to be in the public interest, nor did they indicate whether, or when, they will lay their own charges forward. Lapointe says, “Aside from references to an ‘ongoing investigation,’ we have no assurances from the Crown that they are actually planning to lay charges after they knock ours out. They're welcome to take over the case, but to prosecute it, not to stay or stall the proceedings.”
MiningWatch’s legal action is supported by the following organizations: West Coast Environmental Law-Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund (main funder), Amnesty International Canada, Leadnow, SumOfUs, Sierra Club BC, Wilderness Committee, First Nations Women Advocating for Responsible Mining, Council of Canadians, Fair Mining Collaborative, Rivers Without Borders, British Columbia Environmental Network, Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake, Quesnel River Watershed Alliance, Clayoquot Action, Forest Protection Allies, Kamloops Area Preservation Association, Kamloops Physicians for the Environment Society, and Alaska Clean Water Advocacy.
- On August 4, 2014, the Mount Polley mine tailings dam collapsed, releasing 25 million cubic metres of contaminated mining waste.
- The massive spill destroyed or affected over 2.6 million square meters of aquatic and riparian habitats over a 10-km distance—equivalent to about 500 football fields or 1,500 hockey rinks.
- The spill affected Hazeltine Creek, Polley Lake, and Quesnel Lake, one of the deepest lakes in the world, home to numerous species of fish, and a source of drinking water for local communities.
- Impact assessment reports of the spill provide strong evidence of physical and chemical alteration in sediments. Copper levels are elevated and concentrations of iron, selenium, arsenic, vanadium, manganese, and other contaminants exceed provincial Sediment Quality Guidelines in many areas.
- The National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) reports that the Mount Polley Mine spill was the largest emitter of copper, arsenic and manganese in Canadian waters in 2014.
- Studies also indicate impacts on benthic invertebrates, which are protected under the Fisheries Act and a vital part of ecosystems that sustain fish habitat.
- In January 2015, the Independent Expert Panel Review concluded the spill occurred because of a weak layer of clay that had never been properly characterized, as well as by a dam build too steeply, an unfilled excavation at the toe of the dam, and an excess of water on top of the mining waste.
- In December 2015, an investigation by the B.C. Chief Inspector of Mines came to similar conclusions. He did not recommend to lay charges under the Mines Act, but did not comment on other statutes.
- In May 2016, B.C.’s Auditor General found that the Ministry of Energy and Mines failed to enforce the law or to apply its policies in connection to the slope design and water level of the mine waste site.
- In May 2016, MiningWatch sent a letter to Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada advising them that it intended to lay private charges if it appeared that the Crown was unwilling to lay charges of its own.
- In October 2016, MiningWatch filed a private prosecution against Imperial Metals and the province of British Columbia for violations of the Fisheries Act.
- In January 2017, the Federal Crown announced its intention to stay (i.e. shelve) MiningWatch’s charges without providing a detailed explanation.
“Canada and BC’s environmental laws need to be enforced. We can’t afford the risks of major development projects unless there are consequences for not following the law, which makes the legal action even more important.” — Andrew Gage, West Coast Environmental Law Association
"The disaster that was the Mount Polley tailings pond collapse is not over for those of us who live and depend on the lands and waters, and particularly on the salmon that have always sustained us. Nor is it over for those living in the shadows of other existing and planned mines across BC. What is the point of having laws if governments and industry are not held accountable when they are violated?” — Bev Sellars, Chair, First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining
"Imperial Metals, not Canadian tax payers, need to pay for the full cost to clean up for mining spills like this one. Instead of paying the full costs for this disaster, this million-dollar corporation was rewarded and granted permission to reopen the mine and the even bigger Red Chris mine in northern B.C. The Trudeau government needs to hold Imperial Metals to account." — Angus Wong, Campaign Manager for SumOfUs.org
“We are very concerned that the mine has been granted a license to resume full operations even though the joint criminal has not yet concluded. We are also concerned about the lack of processes to determine what kinds of reparations are due to the people affected by the spill. Under international law, and specifically the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy, obligation to protect includes the duty to investigate violations ‘effectively, promptly, thoroughly and impartially’ and, where appropriate, take action against those allegedly responsible in accordance with domestic and international law”— Tara Scurr, Amnesty International Canada
“As local residents and businesses depending on these fish and waters, we want the BC Government to restore Quesnel Lake and surrounding watershed to pre-breach conditions. We are not opposed to mining development, but we demand that governments enforce laws and ensure all mines operate in a responsible manner. We remain concerned with the ongoing discharge of mine effluent into Quesnel Lake, and we oppose the current permit 11678 application for a long-term discharge, which is based on modelling and ‘guess work’ at best. We require transparency and independence in reporting and testing, along with consultation of all stakeholder groups” — Christine McLean, Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake
“The Quesnel River Watershed Alliance is calling on the Federal Government to enforce the Fisheries Act for the 2014 Mount Polley mine spill. We are also opposing the current permit application for dumping mining effluent into Quesnel Lake and surrounding wetlands. ‘Dilution’ of pollutants into clean waters is not an acceptable solution.” — Chris Blake, Quesnel River Watershed Alliance
"We support this initiative by MiningWatch Canada because we believe that if our laws and regulations are to lead to better, safer, more responsible mining in the future, a message has to be sent that the laws and regulations will be upheld and enforced when it comes to protecting our waters, fish, salmon, and healthy communities” — Joe Foy, Wilderness Committee
“We are very concerned about the Mount Polley mining disaster and the lack of sanctions to date. Imperial Metals is exploring the potential of opening two mines in Clayoquot Sound, near Tofino, in the heart of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. What if this disaster had occurred in Clayoquot Sound?”. — Dan Lewis, Clayoquot Action
“We are homeowners in Kamloops, living below the proposed KGHM Ajax mine tailings pond, which is projected to be five times larger than Mount Polley. The provincial and federal governments are letting us down by failing to bring legal action at Mount Polley and by not implementing new laws which would better protect our lives, health, and environment. We are very grateful for the work that MiningWatch is doing for the public good”— John McNamer & Dr. Susan Mann, Kamloops homeowners affected by AJAX mine
"By not requiring Imperial Metals to pay the full cost of the Mount Polley mining disaster, what message is Canada sending to all industry currently doing business? We are faced with the possibility of a tailings facility much bigger than the one that broke at the Mount Polley mine site, perched on the hills above the city of Kamloops, with a population of over 90,000. Companies would likely invest more in stopping disasters if they knew that they would have the consequence of having to pay the full cost of cleaning up." — Gina Morris, Kamloops Moms For Clean Air
“As an academic researcher, writer, teacher, and citizen, I call on our Federal Government to put democracy before corporate impunity, and to enforce the Fisheries Act. The rule of law must be applied to Canadians of all social standing, of all incomes, or not only is the environment threatened, our democracy is threatened.” — Dr. Norah Bowman, University of Alberta & Okanagan College
For more information, Ugo Lapointe, Canada Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada, cell (514) 708-0134