British Columbia

No B.C. charges in Mount Polley dam collapse as federal investigations continue

Provincial investigation continues and charges could happen at a federal level

Tailings Breach Nuclear 20150130

Contents from a tailings pond is pictured going down the Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake near the town of Likely, B.C. on August, 5, 2014. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)


There will be no provincial charges for a tailings dam collapse in British Columbia but the province's new environment minister says a mining company may still be held responsible through federal laws.

George Heyman said Wednesday the August 2014 disaster has had tremendous economic and environmental consequences and British Columbians deserve to know what went wrong at the Mount Polley mine located in the province's Interior.

"A disaster like this should never have happened in B.C., and it must never happen again," Heyman said in a statement, adding that charges under the federal Fisheries Act "remain very much in play and, in fact, potential penalties are more significant."

A three-year deadline on charges will pass Friday in the midst of an ongoing investigation by B.C.'s Conservation Officer Service, but Chris Doyle, deputy chief of the agency, couldn't say what stage the probe was at.

The federal departments of Environment and Fisheries and Oceans are also part of the investigation.

Mount Polley mine tailings pond

An aerial view of the Mount Polley mine tailings pond shows the area where the earthen wall gave way early on the morning of August 4. (Ministry of the Environment)

"It's an integrated investigation team," Doyle said.

"To date, the evidence has been collected under the provincial Emergency Management Act and the federal Fisheries Act and all of this information gathered during the course of this investigation will be considered by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, should charges be recommended."

The statute of limitations on federal charges will expire in two years.

Mine resumed operations last July

The Mount Polley dam breached at the gold and copper mine, sending 24 million cubic metres of mine waste and sludge into nearby waterways.

Two reports, by B.C.'s chief inspector of mines and an independent panel of engineering experts, found the collapse involving the mine operated by Imperial Metals Corp. was caused by a poorly designed dam that didn't account for drainage and erosion failures.

A scathing report in May 2016 by auditor general Carol Bellringer concluded that almost all expectations for government compliance and enforcement in both the Mines and Environment ministries were inadequate and "not set up to protect the province from environmental risks."

The mine located near Quesnel Lake, about 400 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, resumed full operations last July with a repaired and reinforced tailings dam amid assurances by then-mining minister Bill Bennett that mining code revisions would ensure a similar disaster couldn't happen again.

MiningWatch Canada launched a private prosecution of Mount Polley last fall for alleged violations of the Fisheries Act, but a B.C. provincial court shelved that bid earlier this year.

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