The B.C. government’s release of information about the Mount Polley mine is under fire, with the province’s privacy commissioner investigating what was disclosed before a massive spill, and the opposition calling for more transparency in the wake of the disaster.
Elizabeth Denham, the information and privacy commissioner, announced Thursday she will investigate whether government should have notified the public about the mine’s potential risks before millions of cubic metres of waste poured into central B.C. waterways.
“In the aftermath of the breach, concerns are being raised about what government knew about the condition of the Mount Polley mine and whether the public should have been notified of potential risks before the disaster occurred,” Ms. Denham wrote in a statement.
“After reviewing all publicly available information about the Mount Polley incident, and in light of a complaint received by my office, I have decided to investigate.”
The complaint was filed by Vincent Gogolek, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. He wrote it “appears that the government had information about the dangerous conditions” but chose not to release it.
Mr. Gogolek, in an interview, said he isn’t after a specific document but believes the province has information that belongs in the public realm.
“We were just watching the situation develop to see what happened,” he said. “… As [last] week went on, it seemed more and more likely that [the government] had something because more and more people came forward and said, ‘We told the company, we told the government.’”
Mr. Gogolek said the situation is especially frustrating because Ms. Denham released a report in December that called on public bodies to do a better job of disclosing information that is in the public interest. The report found the government did not properly disclose information about the state of the Testalinden Dam before a 2010 breach.
John Horgan, leader of the opposition B.C. NDP, said he’s been calling for the full release of documents – including the mine permit – since the spill, but has not received anything. He questioned the integrity of the government investigation into the disaster, and said B.C. would be better served by having an independent inquiry.
The province did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.