Coverage of yesterday's events - 3 items
Federal Government Seeks to Quash Lawsuit Against Mount Polley and B.C. Government Before Evidence Heard
By Carol Linnitt • Friday, January 13, 2017 - 15:44
The federal government is seeking to stay a private lawsuit brought against Mount Polley Mining Corporation and the B.C. government in October 2016, nearly 30 months after the collapse of the Mount Polley tailings pond spilled 25-million cubic metres of contaminated mining waste into Quesnel Lake, a source of drinking water for residents of Likely, B.C.
Now the federal government is seeking a withdrawal of the criminal charges before MiningWatch Canada — the organization that first brought the charges, which claim the company and the province violated the federal Fisheries Act — has been given the opportunity to present evidence.
“We were stunned that the federal Crown does not even want us to show the court that there was enough evidence to justify proceeding with a prosecution against both the B.C. government and [the Mount Polley Mining Corporation] for the worst mining spill in Canadian history,” Ugo Lapointe, Canada Program Coordinator for MiningWatch, said.
“To add insult to injury, the Federal Crown did not even provide an explanation for why it is doing this now, with such short notice before the Court date which was set for the last two month,” Lapointe told DeSmog Canada.
Lapointe said under normal circumstances a process hearing would take place during which evidence would be presented and after which the court would emit a summons and set a trial date. Or, if the court decided to stay the proceedings, it would do so with an explanation based on the evidence and provided to the court and thus the public.
The B.C. court will take up to several weeks to decide if the Crown is warranted in entering a stay of charges.
Cancelling the proceedings without strong justification sends a dangerous signal to the mining industry in Canada, Lapointe said, adding it could further erode public confidence in Canada’s regulatory system.
“We initiated this private prosecution out of concern that it has now been over two and a half years since the Mount Polly disaster happened and yet, despite clear evidence of violations of Canadian laws, no charges have been brought forward by any level of government,” he said.
No charges and no fines have been laid against Mount Polley, owned and operated by Vancouver-based Imperial Metals. The collapse of the tailings pond released mining waste containing copper, lead, iron, arsenic and selenium into fish-bearing waters.
Quesnel Lake, where the vast majority of the spilled waste still resides, is home to one of the province’s most abundant sockeye salmon runs.
A 2015 investigation by Chief Inspector of Mines Al Hoffman, did not result in charges against Mount Polley. Hoffman’s report found the company engaged in poor practices but he stopped short of citing Mount Polley for non-compliance.
A subsequent report released by B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer found B.C. suffered from inadequate monitoring and inspection of mines and as a result was unable to ensure mine operators were following provincial rules.
An investigation into the incident by B.C.’s Conservation Officer Service is ongoing.
Imperial Metals is owner and operator of the Red Chris mine in northern B.C. and is exploring options for two more mines on Vancouver Island.
The MiningWatch lawsuit was filed under a citizen’s provision of the Criminal Code that allows for private prosecution of offenses, such as a violation of the Fisheries Act.
According to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, private charges like those brought by MiningWatch are a “valuable constitutional safeguard against inertia or partiality on the part of authorities.”
Lilina Lysenka, lawyer for MiningWatch, said the court should be cautious about dismissing a case without reviewing the evidence.
“Staying the charges prior to having the opportunity to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to proceed could undermine this constitutional safeguard if it is done without good reason,” Lysenka said.
Bev Sellars, chair of First Nations Women Advocating for Responsible Mining which supports the MiningWatch prosecution, said the impacts of the Mount Polley mine spill are far from over.
“The disaster that was the Mount Polley tailings pond collapse is not over for those of us who live and depend on the lands and waters and particularly on the salmon that have always sustained us,” she said at the time of the proceeding’s launch.
“Nor is it over for those living in the shadows of other existing and planned mines across B.C. who are acutely aware of the government’s own panel of experts who reported we can expect to see two more such failures every decade,” she said.
MiningWatch hopes the case will be cleared for trial and will be eventually taken up by the Federal Crown.
Although supported by an impressive coalition of environmental, social justice and First Nations organizations that includes West Coast Environmental Law, Amnesty International Canada, Sierra Club BC, the Wilderness Committee, Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake and many others, MiningWatch recognizes “the cost and expense associated with prosecuting a case against a mining corporation and the Provincial government can be immense.”
“If Canada’s unique environmental values and waters are to be fully protected, it can only occur if the government stands against violations of its own laws and uses all the means and resources it has at its disposal to do so,” the group states.
VIDEO: Crown attempts to stay MiningWatch Canada's charges against mine breach
by Monica Lamb-Yorski - Williams Lake Tribune
Williams Lake posted Jan 13, 2017 at 4:00 PM
MiningWatch Canada's private prosecution against the Mount Polley Mining Corporation and the B.C. government over the Mount Polley Mine tailings breach has had its first hiccup.
In Williams Lake Provincial Court Friday, Jan. 13, Public Service of Canada prosecutor Alexander Clarkson said the Crown intended to enter a stay of proceedings.
However, after an in-camera session with Clarkson and MiningWatch Canada's program co-ordinator Ugo LaPointe and lawyer Lilina Lysenko, Judge Karen Whonnock adjourned the case.
Both sides will now fix a date to come back to court and argue whether or not MiningWatch Canada should be allowed to present its evidence or not, LaPointe said.
Last October, MiningWatch filed the private prosecution, saying there is evidence of damage to fish habitat and violations of the Canadian Fisheries Act because of the Aug. 2014 tailings impoundment breach that warrant criminal charges.
Outside the courtroom LaPointe said he was disappointed the federal Crown wanted to stay the charges, but with the adjournment felt hopeful that MiningWatch still had a chance to pursue the private prosecution.
"It would be a lack of due process to not even have the chance to present our evidence in court and let the court decide if we have enough evidence, not the Crown," LaPointe said.
Clarkson said the Crown wanted to stay the proceedings for two reasons.
"The first reason is because there's no reasonable prospect of conviction against these two parties with the materials presented to us by the complainant Mr. Lapointe," Clarkson said. "The second reason is because it is not in the public's interest to continue a private prosecution at this time because there is an ongoing comprehensive investigation being conducted by three different agencies — the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, Environment Canada and Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It is in the public interest that more comprehensive investigation be completed before a criminal prosecution."
When asked how long the investigation is allowed to take, Clarkson said some offences have a three-year limitation, but the most serious environmental offences, including those under the federal fisheries act, do not have such a limitation.
Here local supporters from Kamloops, Williams Lake, Quesnel and Quesnel Lake, stand with MiningWatch Canada program co-ordinator Ugo LaPointe (third from right) outside the courts building in Williams Lake.
MiningWatch facing battle for Mount Polley prosecution
Posted by: Gene Law January 13, 2017
MiningWatch’s attempt to initiate a private prosecution of the Mount Polley Mining Corporation may have hit a dead end.
The industry watchdog was in Williams Lake Court on Friday morning in hopes of convincing a judge to initiate charges against the company and the B.C. government.
But federal lawyers are asking for a stay of charges.
MiningWatch is arguing there’s enough evidence to start proceedings for violations of the Fisheries Act in relation to the Mount Polley mining disaster.
Ugo Lapointe of MiningWatch says it’s concerning that Crown lawyers want to stay the charges, which would prevent evidence from being presented.
MiningWatch alleges the province and the company didn’t implement safeguards leading up to a devastating tailings pond spill.