New Environment Commissioner Audit: Canada Fails To Protect Waters & Fish from Mine Pollution

(Ottawa) Following this morning’s alarming findings from the Commissioner on Environment and Sustainable Development, MiningWatch Canada urges Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to take immediate actions to beef up inspections and enforcement of the Fisheries Act for the thousands of active and abandoned mine sites across the country.

See MiningWatch Canada's primer on the Commissioner's audit here and a video presentation.

“The findings of this report clearly show that Canada is failing to properly protect waters, fish and aquatic habitat from mine water pollution,” said MiningWatch Canada spokesperson Ugo Lapointe.

The mining watchdog points to the following failures:

  • Too sparse inspections done at each mine site (every 1.5 years on average); 
  • 35% of 138 metal mines out of compliance by not reporting data on pollutant release;
  • 117 non-metal mine sites not subject to a mandatory monitoring of effects on fish;
  • Lack of enforcement measures when mines show effects on fish and fish habitat;
  • Lack of transparency on pollution, spills, and effects to fish on a mine-per-mine basis, to inform the public and affected communities.

MiningWatch also highlights the fact the Commissioner’s mandate did not allow her to investigate other key problems, including the 2017 study by Environment Canada showing that 76% (62 out of 82) of metal mines in Canada show effects to fish, and that 76% (20 out of 26) of those that conducted in-depth studies indicated that mine pollution was the primary or most probable cause. 

The same study indicated that 92% of mines showing effects to fish “may be indicative of a higher risk to the environment.” Commented Ugo Lapointe, “We don’t exactly know why the audit did not address this problem squarely, but it did highlight serious failures of Environment Canada to force companies to act when effects to fish are shown.”

The Commissioner’s audit did not assess the adequacy or effectiveness of current regulated limits for pollutant release from mines. According to Lapointe, “Those limits are too few, too permissive and not science-based. They are in some instances 20 to 100 times higher than what the science recommends to be protective to fish.”

MiningWatch is also concerned that many mine sites across the country continue to pollute waters and affect fish without any real fines or sanctions. Two of the most problematic cases are Imperial Metal’s Mount Polley mine disaster in 2014 — the largest mining spill in Canada’s history — and the chronic and ongoing selenium pollution from coal mining in the Elk Valley watershed.

Lapointe stated, “These are more than failures for the environment, they are failures for public trust in our regulatory system, to protect the health of our communities and ecosystems.”

For more information:

Ugo Lapointe, Canada Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada, [email protected], (514) 708-0134