Five-year anniversary looms with no charges in catastrophic Mount Polley dam collapse

No ecocide law = no prosecution after 5 years. Still, who knows if justice will finally be rendered?

The joint federal-provincial investigation into the collapse of the Mount Polley mine's tailings dam continues. Contents from the pondraced down Hazeltine Creek, with some reaching Quesnel Lake, in 2014.
The collapse of the Mount Polley mine’s tailings dam in 2014 allowed toxic contents from the tailings pond to flow into Hazeltine Creek, with some reaching Quesnel Lake. JONATHAN HAYWARD / CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Environmentalists and Mount Polley mine-area residents are anxiously waiting as one deadline approaches for federal agencies to lay charges over the 2014 collapse of the B.C. Interior mine’s tailings dam.

After a 4-1/2-year investigation, a team comprised of officials with Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, along with the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, delivered a charge package to federal prosecutors this spring.

It is now up to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to determine if charges will be laid.

Under federal law, there is a five-year window that ends Aug. 4 to lay charges in a summary conviction under the Fisheries Act, where a large corporation faces fines up to $8 million.

However, if federal prosecutors were to lay more serious charges as an indictment — which come with higher maximum fines of $12 million — there is no timeline.

Another deadline already passed at the three-year mark, when British Columbia officials decided not to lay charges.

One of the largest mining-dam failures in the world in the past 50 years, the Aug. 4, 2014, dam collapse of Imperial Metals’ gold mine in the B.C. Interior shook the industry and caused concern among the public, First Nations and environmental groups that aquatic life would be harmed, particularly salmon that use the Quesnel Lake system to spawn.

“We are holding our breaths over the next couple of weeks to see what happens,” said Christine McLean, who has a home on the lake. “If charges are laid, we feel that we will finally get some justice.”

Looking upstream at the rehabilitated Lower Hazeltine Creek channel just upstream from Quesnel Lake. The nearby 2014 Mount Polley dam failure was one of the largest failures in the past 50 years, releasing millions of cubic metres of water and tailings into the creek, which flows into Quesnel Lake.
Looking upstream at the rehabilitated Lower Hazeltine Creek channel just upstream from Quesnel Lake. The nearby 2014 Mount Polley dam failure was one of the largest failures in the past 50 years, releasing millions of cubic metres of water and tailings into the creek, which flows into Quesnel Lake. PROVINCE OF B.C.

In a written response, Environment Canada said the investigation team’s charge report was delivered April 2, 2019.

The Public Prosecution Service of Canada, with the help of the B.C. Prosecution Service, is assessing the charge file. “As the matter is now under charge assessment, (Environment Canada) is not in a position to provide further comment at this time,” ministry spokesman Mark Johnson said Friday.

Linda Nowlan, a staff lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law, said the fact federal officials have mentioned there is no timeline for an indictment, may mean they are considering that route. MORE

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