VICTORIA – The British Columbia government is imposing more oversight on the mining industry by boosting potential penalties for prosecutions to $1 million and three years in prison.
The new regulations emerge from recommendations in reports on the collapse of the Mount Polley tailings dam in B.C.’s Interior, which spilled millions of tonnes of mine waste into area waterways.
The province has been limited under the Mines Act to shutting down a mine by cancelling its permit, issuing a stop-work order or pursuing prosecutions, but the changes will now allow for monetary penalties to be imposed without going to court.
Mines Minister Bill Bennett said Thursday that the changes provide his ministry with more tools for compliance and enforcement to build a safer and more sustainable industry.
“The real advantage to what I’m doing here is giving the ministry the nimbleness, the flexibility, to levy an administrative penalty quickly, without having to go to court.”
Bennett said his goal is to ensure the province has the best regulatory regime in the world for health and safety on mine sites.
The $1-million prosecution penalty and extended jail time is enough to ensure compliance, Bennett said.
“Offence prosecutions are only done where you’ve got a really bad actor,” he said. “It’s rare and I don’t know the last time that we had to do this, certainly not any time that I’ve been minister.”
Bennett said the only time the province would take a company to court is if it refused to comply with orders given by the chief inspector.
“Typically what happens if there is some sort of mine non-compliance on the site we levy an administrative penalty, they would get into compliance and that would be the end of it.”
The minister couldn’t say yet what the maximum administrative fine would be for a company that doesn’t follow the rules.
After the failure of the Mount Polley tailings dam in August 2014, the chief inspector of mines ordered a third-party review of all similar operations and found no immediate safety concerns.
Mount Polley is currently back in operation, but not in full production.
The mine, owned by Imperial Metals Corp. (TSX:III), has an application to move back to full production and discharge clean water from the site.
A decision on that is expected this summer, Bennett said.
The company has spent about $170 million restoring Hazeltine Creek which was wiped out when the dam burst.