No provincial charges for Mount Polley mining disaster, but possibility of federal charges remain – by Gordon Hoekstra (August 3, 2017)

The disclosure Wednesday that there will be no charges laid under B.C.’s environmental laws for Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley tailings dam failure in 2014 has environmentalists questioning whether the province’s laws are strong enough.

There remains the possibility of federal charges under the Fisheries Act, but the B.C. Conservation Officer Service has said a B.C.-federal investigation will not be complete by Friday — when the three-year time limit to lay charges under B.C.’s Environmental Management Act ends.

The B.C. conservation service-led investigation — involving a dedicated team of officers and several federal investigators — started almost immediately after the Aug. 4, 2014, failure of the earth-and-rock dam at the gold-and-copper mine northeast of Williams Lake.

That failure spilled millions of cubic metres of effluent and finely ground rock containing potentially toxic metals called tailings. The release scoured a nine-kilometre creek, home to trout and spawning coho salmon, and dumped tailings into Quesnel Lake, the migration route for more than one million sockeye salmon.

Andrew Gage, a lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law, said the fact there will be no charges laid under B.C. laws for one of Canada’s largest mining spills is remarkable and highlights a general trend, he believes, of decreased successful convictions of environmental violations.

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