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Business in Vancouver

Flood of lawsuits hits Canadian mining company

Lawsuits launched in lead-up to two-year anniversary of massive toxic spill

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2016, 3:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2016, 3:15pm

Businesses and First Nations are suing Imperial Metals Corp. and several other defendants over the August 2014 tailings pond dam breach that released more than 20 million cubic metres of toxic debris into the surrounding environment.

In the lead-up to the two-year anniversary of the spill, five separate lawsuits took aim at Imperial and others, including Mount Polley Mining Corp., Bethlehem Resources Corp., Knight Piésold Ltd., Amec Earth & Environmental, Amec Americas Ltd. and the BC government.

Cariboo Mountains Fishing and Outdoor Adventures Ltd. (doing business as Pyna-Tee-Ah Lodge and Fly Fishing Adventures and Ecotours-BC) and Northern Lights Lodge Ltd. filed separate notices of civil claim in BC Supreme Court on July 29, claiming the spill interrupted their businesses. First Nations plaintiffs include the Tsilhqot’in Nation, Esdilagh First Nation, the Toosey Indian Band, the Williams Lake Indian Band, the Soda Creek Indian Band and the St’at’imc Chiefs Council.

The Tsilhqot’in Nation’s lawsuit, filed in BC Supreme Court, says the spill deposited tailings along a nearly 10 kilometre stretch of Hazeltine Creek to Quesnel Lake.

“The flood waters caused by the [tailings storage facility (TSF) breach] created a debris path 150 metres wide,” the claim states. “Aquatic and terrestrial life in Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake were immediately lost.”

Water samples from the lake collected after the breach showed elevated contaminant levels of copper, iron, aluminum, phosphorus and arsenic, according to the claim. The lake drains into Quesnel River and then into the Fraser River, which flows past several First Nations reserves.

“The TSF breach occurred the day before the commencement of the 2014 Fraser River sockeye fishery,” the claim states.

The dam failure was caused by a weak layer of soil under an embankment that gave way that defendants allegedly failed to detect when designing and building the facility. The possibility of a breach was allegedly known as far back as 1995, and the issue of the subsurface conditions below the facility had been raised a few times in the years leading up to the spill.

“The interference with fishing caused by the TSF breach had and continues to have significant additional negative effects on the members of the Tsilhqot’in Nation, including interference with important cultural, social and spiritual activities,” the claim states. “There was, and continues to be, significant emotional stress experienced by Tsilhqot’in fishers and the broader Tsilqot’in community ... Other negative impacts from the TSF breach experienced by the Tsilqot’in Nation include increased competition for fish and resulting increased tension in certain communities, increased administrative burdens, increased burdens on other resources, and decreased or discontinued traditional land use activities.”

The plaintiffs seek unspecified damages for breach of Aboriginal rights and title, negligence, nuisance, loss of fishing income and business interruption.

The allegations have not been tested or proven in court and the defendants had not filed responses to the claims by press time.