Business

Private prosecution launched over 2014 collapse of the Mount Polley dam

WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C. — An advocacy group has launched a private prosecution under the Fisheries Act against the B.C. government and a mining company over the disastrous consequences of the collapse of the Mount Polley tailings dam.

The legal action by MiningWatch Canada says the dam released a torrent of mine waste in B.C.'s Cariboo region, creating a new valley and permanently altering or destroying fish habitat, affecting 20 different fish species.

MiningWatch says in a summary of the lawsuit that it is taking action now because the Crown hasn't laid charges under the Fisheries Act.

"(MiningWatch) fears this inaction on the part of Crown sends the wrong signal to the industry across the country and undermines public confidence in the capacity of our regulatory system to work in an effective and speedy matter to protect the environment," the document says.

The charges allege the province and the Mount Polley Mining Corp. violated the act that prohibits serious harm to fish and forbids the deposit of deleterious substances into fish-bearing waters.

None of the allegations have been proven in court and neither the provincial government nor Mount Polley Mining could be reached for comment.

In August 2014, The dam failed at the Mount Polley gold and copper mine, which is owned by Imperial Metals Corp. (TSX:III). Twenty five million cubic meters of wastewater and mine waste gushed downstream.

The Fisheries Act allows any citizen to initiate a private prosecution if they believe that a person has committed an indictable offence. 

It has been used successfully before when biologist Alexandra Morton laid a private charge against a fish farm company alleging the farmer unlawfully captured wild fish by allowing young salmon to be mixed in the pens of farmed salmon.

MiningWatch says in a news release that it is prepared to go to a full trial if necessary, but the cost can be immense.

"For this reason, MiningWatch will be asking for the federal Crown to carry the prosecution forward, which can decide to take over the case, or not."

A letter sent to MiningWatch lawyer Lilina Lysenko from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans says investigators from three agencies have served search warrants and obtained evidence relevant to the investigations.

"Any charges supporting the evidence will be recommended to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada for their consideration and action," says the letter, dated Sept. 27.