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Lack of charges in Mount Polley disaster ‘a crime’: NDP critic

NDP fisheries critic Fin Donnelly calls on the Canadian government to lay charges on the third anniversary of the Mount Polley mine disaster in B.C.

NDP fisheries critic Fin Donnelly and Jacinda Mack of the Xat’sull First Nation speak at a press conference on the third anniversary of the Mount Polley mine disaster in New Westminster on Friday, Aug. 4, 2017.

Matt Kieltyka/Metro

NDP fisheries critic Fin Donnelly and Jacinda Mack of the Xat’sull First Nation speak at a press conference on the third anniversary of the Mount Polley mine disaster in New Westminster on Friday, Aug. 4, 2017.

The lack of charges three years after British Columbia’s worst-ever environmental mining disaster is “a crime”, according to the federal NDP critic for fisheries.

The tailings dam collapse at the Mount Polley gold and copper mine, near Quesnel Lake, in August 2014 sent 24 million cubic metres of 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.”

Despite that, no charges for alleged violations have ever been laid against the company, which resumed full operations last July.

The three-year statute of limitations for provincial charges passed Friday, B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman announced this week.

That means any potential penalties now must come from the Canadian government under the federal Fisheries Act.

Fin Donnelly, the NDP MP for Port Moody-Coquitlam, is tired of waiting.

“What message does this send after three years not a single prosecution, not a single charge, is laid on one of the worst environmental mining disasters in British Columbia’s, if not Canada’s, history?” Donnelly said at a press conference along the Fraser River in New Westminster on Friday. “24 million cubic metres of toxic sludge spilling into fish bearing waters and not a single charge? That’s absolutely ridiculous. That’s a crime.”

Donnelly said the affected waters are a critical nursery for Fraser River salmon and the disaster has contributed to their decline.

Jacinda Mack, with the Xat’sull First Nation, says the lack of enforcement after the disaster sets a “low standard” for communities that rely on fisheries.

“Today, we are seeing the impunity in which these mining companies operate,” Mack said. “Our communities are heavily dependent on salmon and we’ve gone two years in a row now with the lowest numbers ever in the Fraser River. We say that the disaster isn’t over. We need the federal government to step in and do its job.”

-with files from The Canadian Press

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