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No charges laid in Mount Polley spill

There will be no regulatory charges laid under B.C.'s environmental laws for the Imperial Metals' Mount Polley tailings-dam failure in 2014.

There will be no regulatory charges laid under B.C.'s environmental laws for the Imperial Metals' Mount Polley tailings-dam failure in 2014.

One of the largest mining-dam failures in the world in the past 50 years, it had shaken the industry and caused concerns that aquatic life would be harmed, particularly salmon that use the Quesnel Lake system to spawn.

There remains a possibility of federal charges under the Fisheries Act.

The three-year deadline to lay provincial charges in a court proceeding - which would need to be approved by B.C. Crown counsel - ends Friday.

But a B.C.-federal investigation isn't complete and will not be finished by Friday, Chris Doyle, B.C. Conservation Officer Service deputy chief, said Wednesday.

"It's important to note that the limitation period of a particular piece of legislation - that's just one of the considerations agencies must make during the course of these investigations," said Doyle, responding to a question on why there would be no charges under B.C. laws. "Other factors include the complexity of a situation and the amount of information that needs to be gathered and analyzed."

Doyle said he couldn't say when the investigation would be complete, nor would he comment on the nature of the probe.

In a written statement, B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said British Columbians should know the overall objective continues to be ensuring a "complete investigation."

The dam failure happened under the tenure of the B.C. Liberal government, which was replaced by an NDP government, supported by the Greens, in a razor-thin majority, following the May 9 election.

The B.C. conservation service-led investigation - involving a dedicated team of 15 to 16 of its 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.

Asked Wednesday why an investigation spearheaded by the province wasn't complete within the three-year provincial deadline, Doyle would only say that all of the information gathered during the probe will be considered by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, should charges be recommended.

Asked if there had been any issues with the investigation that prevented the possibility of charges being laid under B.C. law, Doyle said no. "The timeline for this investigation is similar to other significant environmental investigations," he said.

There is a longer period to lay charges under the federal Fisheries Act - five years for summary convictions, and no time limit for the most serious charges that could result in jail time. Environment Canada also confirmed Wednesday the investigation was continuing.

There has been concern - among environmentalists, First Nations and some residents in the area of the Mount Polley mine - that the deadline to lay provincial charges would be missed.

"That's the fear we've had," said Jacinda Mack, coordinator of First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining and a member of the Xatsull First Nation. She said the company should be held accountable at the provincial level under its laws. If a company is involved in a major disaster, there should be some consequence, said Mack.

Studies on the effect of the spill are expected to continue for years.

Ugo Lapointe, program coordinator for Mining Watch Canada, said they have tried to get a response in the past week from the new NDP government on the status of the probe, but had been unsuccessful.

"Given this is the biggest mining spill in Canada, it is unthinkable, unimaginable that there would be no charges at any level of government," he said.

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