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As published on DeSmogCanada, in the hours after the 2014 Mount Polley mine disaster, authorities were already concerned laws had been broken and the premier’s office was worried fallout from the tailing pond breach would “get in the way” of other planned mines, documents provided to The Tyee reveal.
Almost three years after the disaster, and weeks away from a deadline to lay charges under B.C.’s environment act, no charges have been laid and no fines levied.
The government’s initial reaction to the dam’s collapse is revealed in hundreds of pages of emails and other communications obtained through a freedom of information request and provided to The Tyee by Jessica Ross, an independent researcher and member of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.
Ross said she filed the FOI request almost three years ago and only received the documents July 4.
An email exchange between Staff Sgt. Kelly Dahl of the province’s Conservation Officer Service major investigations unit and Sgt. Richard Lebeuf of the Williams Lake RCMP documents raised concerns laws had been broken.
“From the Ministry of Environment’s perspective — It appears there are several possible violations of environmental legislation that may have occurred related to this event,” Dahl wrote. He also expressed concern the federal Fisheries Act may have been broken.
Meanwhile, as officials assessed the damage done, some government staff were working to manage public reaction to the spill.
Premier Christy Clark’s then deputy chief of staff Michele Cadario raised concerns other proposed mine developments could be slowed by the disaster.
“Was there anything that could have been done that wasn’t to prevent this situation — are there better standards employed elsewhere that we should look at?” she asked in an email to a host of staffers, including communications people.
“We have a few new mines coming on stream and we don’t want anything to get in the way of that,” she wrote.
Cadario and other government staffers raised the need to communicate with First Nations in the area and any impact on drinking water.
But they also made an effort to help mine owner Imperial Metals’ public relations efforts after the spill.
The FOI documents show government staff were concerned the company had not been heard from hours after the spill. One email from John Paul Fraser, head of government communications, said the company silence was “looking bad.”
Cadario offered a solution.
“I know the owner of Imperial Metals — I’ll text him and see if he can stir someone up,” Cadario wrote.
The company’s owner, Murray Edwards, has donated more than $400,000 to the BC Liberal Party since 2005 through Imperial Metals and his oil sands company. Edwards also hosted a private fundraiser in Alberta that raised $1 million for the party’s 2013 election campaign.