PUBLIC HAS NO CONFIDENCE IN REGULATION OF BC MINING
“We were woken up from a deep sleep in the middle of the night. It sounded like a low-flying airplane or an earthquake…[we] took the grandkids and ran for higher ground.“ Resident of Likely, BC
On August 4, 2014, the Mount Polley gold and copper mine’s 4-square kilometre tailings pond failed, dumping over 24 million cubic meters of water and mine tailings into surrounding waterways. It was the first catastrophic mine failure in the province’s history. The impact is still being understood.
Located in the interior rainforest of British Columbia, the area around the town of Likely relies heavily on ecotourism and mining. Up to 25% of all salmon in BC return to spawn in Quesnel Lake and its tributaries. The breach deposited tailings waste containing nickel, arsenic, selenium, copper, aluminum and lead into the lake, previously described by Premier Christy Clark as one of the “most pristine, cleanest lakes in the world.” The annual salmon return is of economic, social, cultural and nutritional significance to Indigenous peoples within the Secwepemc Nation and surrounding Indigenous territories.
Many are asking if Quesnel Lake and its tributaries have been irreversibly contaminated. Some no longer trust the safety of the water or fish. Residents have not been compensated for their losses or the harms they suffered, and note that instead the company has been rewarded through the renewal of its operation license and approval of long-term mine water disposal into Quesnel Lake.
A HUMAN RIGHT
To date, little has been done to ensure history will not repeat itself. In fact, the mine has since re-opened and resumed full operations despite ongoing investigations. The BC Ministry of the Environment outlined a number of actions it has taken since the disaster, but did not address in detail any specific questions about water testing, public consultation, health impacts on Indigenous peoples, or financial commitments.
British Colombia’s mining laws, regulations and policies urgently need reform to bring them in line with Canada’s international human rights obligations. Without action, both people and the environment remain at risk.
Join Amnesty International’s call for a Public Inquiry.
A Breach of Human Rights - The Human Rights Impact of the Mount Polley Mines Disaster, British Columbia
I am deeply concerned about the environmental and humans rights impact of the Mt Polley tailings pond breach in August 2014.
I urge you to call a public inquiry into BC’s mining regulatory regime. Such an Inquiry could identify gaps in human rights protections and identify measures required to bring the province’s laws, regulations and policies in line with Canada’s human rights obligations. The public inquiry should be designed to end BC’s colonial-era free entry mine staking process and bring the province into the twenty-first century.
Harms resulting from mining disasters must not be compounded by the State’s failures to uphold rights, including the right to remedy and reparations. The rights of Indigenous peoples must be at the centre of these reforms.