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.
Located in the interior rainforest of British Columbia, Quesnel Lake is considered the incubator of BC’s Sockeye Salmon. Up to 25% of BC salmon return to spawn in the lake and its tributaries. The Mount Polley tailings failure deposited waste containing nickel, arsenic, selenium, copper, aluminum and lead into the lake. Rather than hold the company accountable for the disaster, the former BC Liberal government granted Imperial Metals new operating permits and permission to dump thousands of litres of mine waste - that does not meet water quality guidelines - into Quesnel Lake for 5 years. This puts the food security and well-being of Indigenous peoples and surrounding communities at risk.
Residents have not been compensated for their losses or the human rights harms they suffered. Will the Federal Government uphold the Fisheries Act and lay charges against those responsible for the disaster? In order to protect all British Columbian residents from mining harms, will the Province reform its mining laws to comply with Canada’s human rights obligations?
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 Columbia’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.
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Background: The human rights impacts of the Mount Polley disaster
Dear Premier Horgan,
I am deeply concerned about the environmental and humans rights impacts of the Mt Polley tailings pond breach that happened in August, 2014.The fact that the company has not been fined or charged for its role in the disaster is appalling. Victims of the worst environmental mining disaster in Canada’s history deserve justice.
I urge you to make substantial reforms to BC’s mining laws. Holding a public inquiry into the current laws and policies will help you determine what must be done to bring the province’s laws, regulations and policies in line with Canada’s human rights obligations, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Reforming BC’s mining laws will show that BC is serious about respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples. The public inquiry should be designed to end BC’s antiquated mining laws and bring the province into the twenty-first century. The rights of Indigenous peoples and the right to a healthy environment must be at the centre of these reforms.