Growing Pressure for Public Inquiry into B.C.’s Dysfunctional Mining Regulatory System

MiningWatch joins a growing coalition of communities, organizations, and First Nations calling for a public inquiry and broad reforms of British Columbia’s regulatory system.

“We are deeply concerned about B.C.’s mining regulatory system, which despite recent government actions, is still in a profound state of dysfunction. It remains one of the more problematic—if not the worst—in Canada when it comes to protecting the environment, communities, indigenous peoples, and taxpayers,” states Ugo Lapointe, Canada Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada.

See also Stephen Hume: Regulatory chaos leaves taxpayers on hook for mining messes in B.C.

MiningWatch Canada supports the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre's (UVIC-ELC) and Fair Mining Collaborative's joint request for the urgent establishment of a Judicial Commission of Public Inquiry to investigate, rectify, and improve the mining regulatory regime in B.C. (see full petition and analysis report here).

In a letter sent last week to Premier Christy Clark and B.C.’s Lieutenant Governor in Council, the mining watchdog notes:

  • B.C. ranks worst in Canada for unsecured environmental liability of contaminated mine site clean-up costs, when compared to the other main mining jurisdictions. On a per-capita basis, B.C.’s unsecured liability (over $1.5 billion) is respectively 123% and 217% higher than Quebec and Ontario. But the gap is likely wider as per our estimates. This means that British Columbians are disproportionally more on the hook for cleaning up the mess left behind by the mining industry.
  • B.C. remains the only large mining jurisdiction in Canada that has not yet modernized its mineral tenure system, which is still based on the 19th century principle of “free entry.” This system exposes taxpayers, the environment, private land owners, municipalities, and indigenous peoples to unnecessary and unacceptable levels of risks, impacts, and conflicts.
  • B.C. has seen the worst mining spill in Canada’s history—the 2014 Mount Polley mine disaster—which most independent observers have attributed not only to poor technical and corporate practices, but also to poor regulatory oversight.
  • B.C.’s system is subject to severe regulatory capture by the industry, a situation exacerbated by the fact that B.C. remains the only large province in Canada where there are no limits on political donations from corporate interests. The New York Times as described this situation as “The ‘Wild West’ of Canadian Political Cash.

MiningWatch highlights that the particular geology, geography, and socio-economic fabric of B.C. also contribute for increased risks of the mining industry in this province. Mines in B.C. are typically larger, with lower-grade deposits, and generate much more mining wastes—which contain tons of toxic substances that need to be stored and monitored in perpetuity. B.C. is also the most active seismic zone in Canada and many mines are located in unstable valleys or on high mountain ranges with high precipitation and erosion rates. When considering that B.C.’s economy is largely based on in-land and off-shore fishing, salmon fishing, and a myriad of local economies and livelihoods—particularly First Nations’—the compounding risk factors are all the greater when contaminated mine sites fail or spill.

The First Nations, communities, and organizations that support a public inquiry into B.C.’s mining sector include: University of Victoria Environmental Law Center, Fair Mining Collaborative, First Nation Energy and Mining Council, First Nation Women Advocating Responsible Mining, West Moberly First Nations, Northern Secwepemc te Qelmuckw Leadership Council, Gitxaala Nation, Yunesit’in Government, Xeni Gwet’in First Nations Government, Salmon Beyond Borders, Sierra Club of BC, Wilderness Committee, Rivers Without Borders, Kamloops Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Kamloops Area Preservation Association, Clayoquot Action, Northern Confluence, Thompson Rivers University Faculty Association, Human Rights Committee, Kamloops Moms for Clean Air, Aberdeen Neighbourhood Association, and MiningWatch Canada.

For information contact Ugo Lapointe, Canada Program Coordinator, cell.514-708-0134, [email protected]

MiningWatch is an independent, not-for-profit organization created in 1999 as a co-ordinated public interest response to the threats to public health, water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and community interests posed by some irresponsible mineral policies and practices in Canada and internationally. It is supported by twenty-seven Canadian environmental, social justice, Indigenous, and labour organisations.