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NDP to probe lack of B.C. charges in Mount Polley dam failure PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Posted by Joan Russow
Saturday, 05 August 2017 12:14

August 4, 2017 5:56 pm By Gordon Hoekstra

The B.C. NDP government says it will determine why a deadline to lay provincial regulatory charges was missed in an investigation over Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley tailings dam failure.

The three-year time limit to lay charges under B.C.’s Environmental Management Act ended .

The B.C. Conservation Officer Service-led investigation continues in conjunction with Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, but officials have not been able to say when it will be complete.

Federal charges are still possible under the Fisheries Act.

On Friday, Premier John Horgan said he was shocked to learn that no provincial charges will be laid in the 2014 dam collapse.

One of the largest dam failures in the world in the past 50 years, the Mount Polley collapse released millions of cubic metres of effluent and finely-ground rock containing potentially toxic metals into waterways, including Quesnel Lake, the migratory pathway for more than one million sockeye salmon.

Others also weighed in  citing disappointment over the lack of charges, including the federal NDP and Amnesty International.

With the support of several environmental groups — including Mining Watch Canada and West Coast Environmental Law — former Xat’sull First Nation chief Bev Sellars announced  she had filed private charges in provincial court under B.C.’s Environmental Management Act and the Mining Act over the Mount Polley dam failure. In a statement, she said she hoped the private charges could act as a “doorstopper,” buying time for the investigation to be completed and the potential for the province to carry on with charges.

Contents from a tailings pond are pictured going down the Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake near the town of Likely on Aug. 5, 2014. JONATHAN HAYWARD /THE CANADIAN PRESS

In an interview , Environment Minister George Heyman said he would review how the Conservation Officer Service undertakes investigations to ensure they are expeditious.

“I share the frustration of many British Columbians over the length of time that has passed since this horrible environmental catastrophe,” Heyman said. “We still don’t yet have a report or an understanding whether any individual or company may be charged either by federal or provincial agencies.”

“British Columbians rightly believe that if anyone is responsible or any company is responsible — found to be responsible — they should be held accountable and not simply escape accountability because of statutes of limitations.”

Horgan, who was sworn in last month, said the Conservation Officer Service has limited resources and his government will get to the bottom of why more resources weren’t deployed for this investigation.

Federal charges remain possible because the time limit to lay charges under the Fisheries Act is five years.

Heyman said that criminal charges also remain possible in B.C. and federally.

However, criminal charges have a higher threshold of proof, having to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, while regulatory charges are tested under a balance of probabilities.

Most court charges for environmental incidents take place at the regulatory level.

Under either situation, charges would have to be approved by Crown Counsel in B.C. or the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

Heyman stressed if more investigation resources are needed, he will ask for them.

Heyman also said as part of a wide review of B.C.’s environmental laws, penalties and enforcement, his regime will examine whether the time limit on laying charges needs to be increased.

The review also includes an examination of the practice of relying on professionals hired by companies to monitor and sign off on areas such as dam safety and environmental integrity.

With files from The Canadian Press

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Last Updated on Sunday, 13 August 2017 00:32
 

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