British Columbia

Mount Polley mine spill report released by B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner

B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner released a report this morning on how the government handled information about the Mount Polley Mine disaster last summer.

Report examines whether or not the province withheld information about dangerous conditions

Contents from a tailings pond from the Mount Polley Mine is pictured going down the Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake after a spill last August. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

A report released by B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner about the Mount Polley Mine disaster last summer reveals that the province had information that indicated a potential safety risk that it did not disclose to local residents — but it didn't have to do so.

The commissioner examined records from the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the Ministry of Environment from January 2009 to August 2014.

The report found that the information the ministries had about the mine did not meet provincial requirements to share the risks to residents. However, they did have information about two events — a tension crack and a "freeboard incident" — that they could have disclosed nonetheless. 

"With today's report, I have concluded that urgent circumstances are no longer required to trigger proactive disclosure where there is a clear public interest in disclosure of the information," said the commissioner Elizabeth Denham in a written statement.

Last August, a wall of the Mount Polley tailings pond broke and spilled 10.6 million cubic metres of water, 7.3 million cubic metres of tailings and 6.5 million cubic metres of interstitial water laden with toxic arsenic, nickel and lead into B.C. waterways.

Later that month, the province's privacy commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, announced she would investigate whether the province had information about the dangerous conditions at the mine but chose not to release it.

The investigation was triggered by a complaint filed by the executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

The release of today's report comes as the province contemplates the re-opening of the Mount Polley mine.

​The Ministry of Energy and Mines says the facility could re-open for business later this month.

With files from Farrah Merali