The 2014 Mount Polley mine disaster in British Columbia’s Cariboo region, also known as Secwepemeculecw, was a devastating reminder of what can go wrong when governments fail to suitably regulate companies. The copper mine’s tailings pond collapse led to the destruction of Hazeltine Creek – a fish-bearing creek - and contamination of the western basin of Quesnel Lake. Remediation efforts did not remove toxic tailings sediment from the lake, leading locals to fear for their health and that of the fish and aquatic life in the lake. Scientists at the University of Northern British Columbia have reported on changes to the wester basin waters since the disaster.
In 2017, to compound matters and frustrate locals who opposed it, the province issued the company a permit to pipe untreated, filtered mine wastewater into Quesnel Lake until 2022. Residents and Indigenous peoples have been fighting to have the discharge pipes removed from Quesnel Lake and for the Province to compel the company to implement on-site wastewater treatment.
Two United Nations bodies, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights and the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, have since highlighted the Mount Polley mine disaster and called on Canada to bring those responsible for the disaster to justice and provide remedy to those who were harmed. Living in a healthy environment is integral to enjoying a range of universal human rights. Canadians expect all levels of government to uphold their human rights obligations.
Shockingly, despite these recommendations and a criminal investigation lasting four years, the government of Canada has not taken legal action.
To learn more about the human rights impacts of the 2014 Mount Polley mine disaster on Yuct Ne Senixymetkwe or Quesnel Lake and area residents, please visit our website.