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No BC Charges in Mount Polley Disaster as Investigation Misses Deadline

Deadline for laying provincial charges will pass without a conclusion to the three-year probe.

By Christopher Cheung 2 Aug 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Christopher Cheung is a reporter and page editor at the Tyee. You can find his stories here and follow him on Twitter at @bychrischeung.

The government investigation into the Mount Polley mine disaster is still incomplete after three years, meaning no charges can be laid under provincial laws.

The mine’s tailing pond burst on Aug. 4, 2014, dumping millions of gallons of water and mine waste into local rivers and lakes. Legislation gives the province just three years to lay charges in such cases. The deadline is Friday.

Deputy chief Chris Doyle of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service said the investigation is proceeding “full steam ahead” and has no deadline. The service is leading the investigation, supported by federal agencies.

Federal legislation allows charges to be laid within five years and Environment Minister George Heyman said in a media release that Fisheries Act charges are still possible.

Heyman said “British Columbians deserve a rigorous and independent investigation to determine exactly what went wrong and to ensure any person or company that broke the law is held responsible.”

“Potential charges under the federal fisheries act remain very much in play and, in fact, potential penalties are more significant,” Heyman’s statement said.

The slow pace of the investigation and lack of charges has alarmed people who live near the mine. The tailings pond collapse dumped more than 25 million cubic meters of waste water and sludge dumped into nearby Quesnel Lake and surrounding streams.

“I’ve heard of other investigations that have certainly ended in charges in a lot shorter time period than three years,” Doug Watt told The Tyee two weeks ago.

“This seems quite drawn out to me,” said Watt, a metallurgist and environment superintendent in Likely.

Watt’s community depended on Quesnel Lake for fresh water for drinking and household use.

The mine is owned by Imperial Metals. Owner Murray Edwards has donated more than $400,000 to the BC Liberal Party since 2005 through Imperial Metals and his oil sands company. Edwards also hosted a private fundraiser in Alberta that raised $1 million for the party’s 2013 election campaign.

Andrew Gage, staff counsel at West Coast Environmental Law, told the Tyee two weeks ago that if the deadline passes without charges it could signal the province is lax on environmental enforcement.

A report by the law group last year found that the number of tickets and convictions for environmental infractions in mining had dropped significantly since 2000.

“What message does it send to others who may be careless in their behaviour that this type of high-profile case can be dragged out so long?” asked Gage.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics, Environment

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