No penalties for Mount Polley disaster

As we gathered under blue skies in Tofino on the third anniversary of the Mount Polley mining disaster, it was easy to feel connected with the T’exelc  and Xaastull First Nations in whose territories Mount Polley lies. The air was hazy with smoke from the wildfires which had forced both Nations to evacuate from their homes. The haze obscured the view of Catface Mountain, 10 kilometres north of Tofino in Ahousaht First Nations territories, where Imperial Metals is currently pursuing plans to remove the mountaintop to build an open-pit copper mine.

It’s been 3 years since the disaster at the Mount Polley Mine near Williams Lake changed everything for First Nations in the region. When the earthen dam of Imperial Metals’ tailings storage facility burst in the wee hours of August 4th, 25 million cubic metres of toxic sludge and slurry spilled out and ran down into Quesnel Lake, home to one quarter of the Fraser River’s sockeye population. Residents of nearby Likely woke to a sound like a roaring jet engine. To this day people do not trust the water quality of the lake they used to drink from, and expensive water filters clog up within days. It’s stunning to think that three years later, those toxic tailings have not been cleaned up—there are still tonnes of solids lining Hazeltine Creek, and lying on the bottom of Quesnel Lake.

Largest mining disaster in Canadian history
No penalties have been laid for the largest mining disaster in Canadian history. There have been several investigations and review panels, but no-one has been held responsible—not the company, nor Bill Bennett, who was the Liberal government’s minister of mining. Private prosecution was brought forward by Mining Watch Canada, but quashed when the crown prosecutor argued for a stay of proceedings, and the judge refused to hear evidence that harm had been caused to fish habitat.

The independent review panel which examined the aftermath of Mount Polley declared the disaster meant “the end of business as usual”. Yet within months, Mount Polley was allowed to resume operations—before the tailings dam was even repaired.

The third anniversary marked the deadline for laying charges under provincial laws. The BC Conservation Office spent 3 years investigating Mount Polley, raiding Imperial Metals’ offices after the disaster. However, days before the deadline they announced the investigation had not been completed in time. The federal department of fisheries was part of that investigation, and they have another two years to lay charges under the Fisheries Act.

Meanwhile Bev Sellars filed 15 private charges against Imperial on the third anniversary, under both the provincial Environmental Act and the Mines Act, saying “I could not bear to witness BC simply stepping aside and giving-up on its own responsibility to protect our shared environment and waters.” Her legal action is being by supported by MiningWatch Canada, West Coast Environmental Law, the Wilderness Committee and First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining. She was chief councillor of the Xaastull First Nation at the time of the disaster.

New BC government must take action
Many people are counting on the new government to take action to clean up BC’s mining industry. With Imperial Metals considering two mines in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve despite opposition from Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations, we’ll be watching closely.

It felt good to gather on the third anniversary, knowing that people across Canada were also acting in solidarity with First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining. During the water ceremony led by Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations elder Levi Martin in Tofino, we passed a bowl of water around the circle, and spoke about why we appreciate water. As Levi said “We do not want Imperial Metals in Tla-o-qui-aht territory, because all the land the water and the resources belong to our children, and great-great-grandchildren. It is our responsibility to live with care, honour, respect and humility for the sake of our children and great-great-grandchildren.”

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.

Check out Dan’s latest Mount Polley post on Huffington Post.

Douglas Magazine in Victoria just published a story about Imperial Metals’ plans for Clayoquot Sound. Begins on page 32.

water is life

Water is life

This spring a team of Clayoquot Action volunteers gathered to plan an event for the April 29 National Day of Action. Most of the team were graduates of our in-house Doing Democracy course back in November, so had a handle on concepts like the 8 stages of social movements and the 4 roles of activists (Citizen, Rebel, Reformer, Social Change Agent), and were thus equipped to think strategically about what to do.

Nobody had an appetite for marching down Tofino’s 3-block main drag chanting ‘hey hey Kinder Morgan’s got to go’. It’s different in a small town—we needed something fun and inclusive! We began by looking together at the Beautiful Trouble website, and the team quickly settled on the tactic of a human banner. Continue reading

Bingham Canyon Open Pit Copper Mine

A tale of two mines

An open-pit copper mine in the heart of Clayoquot Sound? A historic gold mine re-opened using modern technology to scour out minerals the old-timers couldn’t get at? Is this the best we can hope for, almost 25 years after the Clayoquot Summer peaceful protests put the region on the map of global ecological hotspots?

Imperial Metals sparked controversy this month when interviewed by CBC for a story on mining. When asked about Imperial’s Clayoquot Sound claims, Vice President Steve Robertson said “those mining projects are very valuable to the company, we feel they’re high priority projects”. Robertson was formerly the manager of Imperial’s Mount Polley Mine, until their tailings dam failed catastrophically in 2014, spilling 25 million cubic metres of toxic tailings and slurry into pristine Quesnel Lake—one of the biggest mining disasters in the world. Continue reading

Sydney Valley, Clayoquot Sound

I am the river and the river is me

A Māori tribe made history recently when a New Zealand river was granted legal rights. The Whanganui River has been granted personhood and rights, thus settling the longest running court case in New Zealand’s history.

The Whanganui iwi [tribe] of the Māori fought for 140 years to protect their river. “The reason we have taken this approach is because we consider the river an ancestor and always have,” said Gerrard Albert, the lead negotiator for the Whanganui iwi. “We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as an indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.” Continue reading

Ahousaht First Nations vision

Ahousahts’ vision

Hereditary chiefs typically designate a speaker to speak for them in public. This is because when they say something, it can’t be taken back. So I was curious when I heard Chief Maquinna from Ahousaht was going to speak at a Raincoast Education Society event in Tofino about old growth forests—how was this going to work?

Lewis George is the hereditary chief of Ahousaht, and bears the traditional title m̓ukʷina (Maquinna), which he received from his late father Earl Maquinna George. The first thing he did last week was to explain why he was speaking. Hereditary chiefs can only speak for themselves when they have good news. And Ahousaht has good news!

The Ahousaht confederacy recently announced their marine- and land-use vision for their traditional territories (ḥaḥuułʔi). The community consensus is to protect their lands and waters, including the globally rare ancient rainforests—the massive cedars and spruces—of which they are the custodians. Continue reading

Clayoquot Science Panel

(Originally published in November/December 2016 issue of Watershed Sentinel)

As I struggled to hoist myself up onto the monumental stump of an ancient red cedar, I wondered how it had come to this. Why, in 2010, were trees like this being cut down in Clayoquot Sound? A place where valley after valley of ancient forests never ravaged by chainsaws undulates downwards from the snowy peaks, to surf rolling in on mile-long sandy beaches. Continue reading

Clayoquot Action's Dan Lewis, protest against Kinder Morgan, Burnaby Mountain, BC. Marnie Recker Photography

Ready for Clayoquot 2.0

By approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has either failed to understand who voted for him and why, or he would appear to be a fraud.

During the election he presented himself as an alternative to Stephen Harper—a leader who had weakened environmental regulations, vilified environmentalists as ‘enemies of the state’ and pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Treaty. Justin spoke of the need to restore environmental protections, for true reconciliation with First Nations, to address the climate crisis for the sake of young people, and a return to science-based decision-making.

How could he betray all this? Why would he go to the Paris climate talks and boast “Canada is back”, then accept Harper’s carbon targets as his own? Why would he agree to a pipeline which was approved by a flawed NEB process which he had promised to fix? Why would he spend his summer vacation in Tofino, then put the beautiful west coast of BC at risk of a major oil spill? Continue reading

No pipelines, no tankers, no problems!

The Carnival Marching Band was belting out tunes last Saturday as we began marching from City Hall. Five thousand people flooded the streets of Vancouver in advance of Prime Minister Trudeau’s decision on Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion plans. As we crossed the Cambie Street Bridge a massive chant rose up: “Hey hey, Trudeau, Kinder Morgan’s got to go!” It was exhilarating to be together with so many people who are determined to ensure that this pipeline is never built.

Coastal communities on the frontline
A Clayoquot Action contingent made our way down from Tofino to join this massive pipeline protest—because coastal communities like Tofino, Esowista, Ahousaht, and Hot Springs Cove are on the front lines. Long Beach is less than 50 kilometres from the proposed tanker route. This places Clayoquot Sound outside of K-M’s designated Enhanced Area of Response, which means if a spill were to occur, no assistance would be coming for the first 72 hours. Continue reading

MiningWatch heads into the Williams Lake court

Legal action over Mount Polley disaster

On October 18th, Clayoquot Action joined MiningWatch Canada in Williams Lake to support their launch of private prosecution against Imperial Metals and the BC government for the 2014 Mount Polley Mine disaster.

This legal action is supported by more than a dozen non-profit organizations including Wilderness Committee, Amnesty International, First Nations Women Advocating for Responsible Mining (FNWARM), Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake, Kamloops Area Preservation Association, and Sierra Club.

Largest mining disaster in Canadian history
The 25 million cubic metre spill near Likely was the largest in Canadian history. The sheer volume and velocity of the spill instantly killed fish, destroyed a 9 km section of Hazeltine Creek, filled both Polley and Quesnel Lakes with tons of toxic slurry mine waste, triggered drinking water bans, and significantly affected downstream livelihoods. Continue reading

Big summer for wild salmon!

It was a big summer for wild salmon. Captain Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society donated their vessel, the R/V Martin Sheen, to BC biologist Alexandra Morton. Operation Virus Hunter was launched! The goal was to track farm salmon viruses and audit salmon farms along the Fraser wild salmon migration route.

Things ramped up in August when the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw chiefs (pictured above at a Vancouver rally) issued an eviction notice to all salmon farms in their territory, including Cermaq, the same Norwegian company operating in Clayoquot Sound. The Nation has been opposing salmon farms in their territory for decades. This summer Band Councillor Melissa Willie instructed by Chief Willie Moon to climb aboard a salmon farm to request a sample of the farm fish for testing. Their request was denied. Continue reading