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Rights + Justice

RCMP Fought to Avoid Responsibility after Wet’suwet’en Diesel Spill

FOI shows Mounties pushed the province to reverse a decision holding the force liable for the spill at its outpost. It seems to have worked.

Amanda Follett Hosgood 30 Oct

Amanda Follett Hosgood lives and writes amidst the stunning mountains and rivers of Wet’suwet’en territory. Find her on Twitter @amandajfollett.

When 500 litres of diesel fuel spilled at a remote RCMP detachment on Wet’suwet’en territory earlier this year, the force fought to avoid responsibility, according to documents obtained by The Tyee.

In an email exchange days after the spill was discovered on May 19, Sgt. Kevin Krygier, an operations support bronze commander based in Surrey, urged the province’s Environment Ministry to reconsider naming the RCMP as the “responsible person” for the spill that took place at its Community-Industry Safety Office on the Morice West Forest Service Road in northern B.C.

“I do question why the RCMP has been deemed by the province to be the spiller,” Krygier said in an email to the ministry on May 23. “The RCMP simply occupies these facilities being provided by ATCO.”

The detachment, located about a kilometre off the remote resource road and within 100 metres of the Morice River, is comprised of two trailers that were installed at the site in January 2019 after the first of two confrontations between police and Wet’suwet’en members who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their territory.

Hereditary Chiefs asked the RCMP to move the outpost as a precondition before they would enter negotiations with federal and provincial governments in late February.

While the force began basing its patrols out of nearby Houston, the trailers have remained and are part of the officers’ regular patrols.

In his email, obtained through a Tyee freedom of information request, Krygier notes the facilities are owned and maintained by ATCO Structures, a Calgary-based company. It provides, among other services, “workforce housing, innovative modular facilities, construction, site support services, facility operations management and maintenance,” according to its website.

He says ATCO contracted CAT Finning to provide a generator and fuel storage tank, as well as monitor fuel supply and maintenance.

According to an update report provided to the ministry by ATCO, human error caused the spill after a fitting on a generator that powered the trailers was incorrectly installed.

“The RCMP therefore did not possess or have charge, control of the substance or thing when the spill occurred,” Krygier complained to the Environment Ministry. “This would clearly have been ATCO. Hence why ATCO had reported the spill. As such, I would ask that this ‘Responsible Person’ determination be carefully re-examined and reconsidered.”

Norm Fallows, response section head with the ministry’s Environmental Emergency Program in Smithers, responded by saying the RCMP’s permit with Recreation Sites and Trails BC, a branch of the Forests Ministry, makes it responsible for keeping the site clean.

The Community-Industry Safety Office is within the footprint of the nearby Owen Flats Recreation Site. The permit recognizes its use by RCMP “for commercial purposes” and as a “temporary residence for conducting business outside of the recreation site.”

Permit conditions include being “responsible for cleanup of the permit area and the removal of all garbage” as well as to not “damage or cause any alterations to a structure or natural resource.”

Fallows adds that naming RCMP as the responsible party follows ministry practice.

“The application of ‘Responsible Person’ by our program is consistent with how the definition is applied across the province. For example, a mining company is deemed to be the Responsible Person for all contractors and service providers operating on a mine site,” he says, adding that the same would apply to pipeline companies.

“We view contractual obligations/agreements between the Responsible Person and their contractors/service providers a matter between the parties involved.”

A similar spill, which was also estimated at about 500 litres, occurred at Coastal GasLink’s 9A Lodge earlier in the year. The work camp is also managed by a subcontractor.

In an email to The Tyee, the BC Oil and Gas Commission confirmed that it works directly with the pipeline builder on spill response. “As the authorization holder, Coastal GasLink is responsible for the site and the party involved in the investigation,” it says.

But Krygier continued to argue the RCMP shouldn’t be held responsible for the spill.

“It is our position that, though the Ministry of Environment typically applies the definition of ‘Responsible Person’ as you have described, this is not consistent with the realities of this particular instance,” he said in a followup response to the ministry. “Furthermore, the application of the definition should be considered on a case-by-case basis, mindful of the totality of the circumstance and in consideration of the unique elements presented in each instance.”

The RCMP’s efforts seemed to work.

In an email to the Office of the Wet’suwet’en in early June, the Ministry of Environment confirms that ATCO Structures is the responsible party on the RCMP spill. The Calgary-based company, which has satellite offices in Vancouver and Prince George, did not immediately respond to The Tyee’s request for comment.

RCMP also did not respond to questions about who is responsible for cleanup costs.

In a two-page handout, the Ministry of Environment defines “responsible person” as someone who “has possession, charge or control of a substance or thing when a spill of the substance or thing occurs or is at imminent risk of occurring.” The responsible person is tasked with cleanup and associated costs, unless the province is asked to step in, it says.

CBC recently reported that from January 2019 to March 2020, the RCMP spent more than $13 million policing the remote area. Police patrols continue on the Morice forestry road.  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, Rights + Justice

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