WCEL Blog – Mount Polley disaster escapes BC law because of government policy on private prosecutions

On January 30th, 2018, the BC government decided to drop the private prosecution launched by Bev Sellars into the Mount Polley disaster.

Through her private prosecution, Bev, a grandmother and former chief of the Xat’sull First Nation, gave the provincial government a second chance to show that BC can enforce its own environmental laws.

They let that chance slide away, and let us all down – while demonstrating fundamental problems with how the province deals with charges laid by members of the public against environmental offenders.

What happened. We all know the basics. On August 4th, 2014, the dam holding back a tailings pond at the Mount Polley mine above Quesnel Lake collapsed. Around 24 million cubic metres of mine tailings – containing toxins like arsenic, mercury, selenium, lead and copper – tore through the breach and down Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake. Quesnel Lake is a source of drinking water and vital habitat for about a quarter of the province’s sockeye salmon.

That toxin-infused sediment is still on the lake bottom, and the mine is still discharging wastewater directly into Quesnel Lake. Mount Polley was the biggest mining disaster in Canadian history, and it is ongoing.

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