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British Columbia Western Canada: Charges recommended five years after Mount Polley tailings pond failed

In August, 2014, Mount Polley’s massive tailings dam breached at the copper and gold mine in B.C.’s Cariboo Region near Quesnel Lake, sending about 24 million cubic metres of waste and mine water into nearby waterways.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Happy Canada Day. Wendy Cox here in Vancouver.

The failure of the tailings pond at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine in 2014 sent a deluge of waste and mine water into central B.C. waterways, scarring the otherwise picturesque environment around Quesnel Lake.

It stands as the worst mine-waste disaster in Canadian history. Almost five years on, no charges have ever been laid.

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That may change, as Justine Hunter reports this weekend. Environment Canada told Justine a joint task force sent its recommendations to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada in early April. Now, the Crown will have until Aug. 4 – the fifth anniversary of the disaster – to decide whether to lay the charges.

The British Columbia government missed its window to file charges in 2017, although an expert panel that looked into the accident found the tailings dam was built on a weakened foundation. Over the years, the dam was repeatedly raised and made steeper, making the problem worse.

Three engineers face disciplinary proceedings as a result of the design flaws, and the province has tightened up oversight of mining regulation.

The mine reopened after the disaster, but operations were suspended May 31, the result of depressed copper prices.

But area residents, including First Nations members, want Imperial Minerals to be held accountable.

“We want financial consequences, and the company has to clean up the mess,” said Robert Phillips, of the First Nations Energy and Mining Council.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.

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Around the West:

Pipeline fight: The leaders of Alberta and British Columbia met for the first time this week at the Western premiers’ conference in Edmonton, but neither gave up any ground in their ongoing dispute over the Trans Mountain pipeline. B.C. Premier John Horgan came to office two years ago on a promise to do whatever he could to block the Trans Mountain expansion project. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney won his province’s election in April promising to fight back against opponents like Mr. Horgan. The pipeline came up during this week’s meeting, but both came out about where they started. And on Friday, B.C. was in court challenging a law that would allow Alberta to cut off oil shipments to B.C. as punishment for pipeline opposition. Mr. Kenney has said he doesn’t intend to follow through with that threat any time soon, and Mr. Horgan says he believes that.

Carbon tax: Alberta’s premier says the province will press ahead with a legal challenge of the federal carbon tax, after a court ruling in Ontario becomes the second judgment upholding Ottawa’s policy. The Ontario Court of Appeal issued a 4-1 ruling yesterday that upheld the federal carbon pricing system, while Saskatchewan’s Appeal Court issued a similar 3-2 ruling in May. Mr. Kenney is taking comfort in the fact that the decisions have been split, and says his government will study the decision as it prepares for its own constitutional case. Alberta plans to intervene in a Supreme Court of Canada hearing related to the Saskatchewan case in December.

Child advocate: Saskatchewan’s child advocate has apologized and resigned over harassment allegations. Corey O’Soup resigned after he was suspended by the legislature’s board of internal economy. The legislature said there were “multiple complaints of harassment,” while a statement from Mr. O’Soup’s office said the behaviour "primarily consisted of inappropriate electronic communication and was not physical in nature.”

Vancouver’s Broadway subway: The B.C. government will allow SNC-Lavalin to be one of three bidders to build Vancouver’s new Broadway subway line. Local mayors had expressed concern about the company being involved in the long-awaited $2.83-billion extension of the SkyTrain line that will run below the east-west Broadway corridor.

Garbage ship: A ship carrying 1,500 tonnes of Canadian waste will arrive in Vancouver today after years of languishing in the Philippines. The garbage will end up at a facility in Burnaby, B.C., where it will be processed at Metro Vancouver’s Waste-to-Energy facility. Andrea Woo took a tour of the facility, which has brought on extra staff to process 69 shipping containers of mostly paper and plastic.

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Alberta Party: The leader of the Alberta Party, which was wiped out in the April election despite receiving its largest-ever share of the popular vote, is leaving politics. Stephen Mandel, a former Edmonton mayor, will instead focus his time on his role as chancellor of Concordia University.

Writing-on-Stone Park: An Alberta park is poised to get UNESCO World Heritage site status. The World Heritage Committee is weighing 36 nominations, including Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. The park is a sacred Blackfoot site in southeastern Alberta that is known for its sandstone cliffs, hoodoo formations and Indigenous petroglyphs that predate contact with Europeans.

Opinion:

Campbell Clark on the carbon tax court rulings: “None of that is really going to sway people who already have an entrenched view for or against those carbon levies. But there are a lot of people who aren’t so sure, who might have wondered whether Ottawa was pushing its way into provincial turf, for example, and now the Liberals can cite the courts when they answer.”

Jeff Wells and Fritz Reid on protecting our boreal forests: “Birds that begin life in the boreal forest go on to pollinate plants, disperse seeds and control insects throughout flyways that span the hemisphere. But they can only provide those services for as long as their nursery remains intact. And if they have a lot of space.”

Adrienne Tanner on a bus to the beach: “The intoxicating combination of ocean, mountains and beach is a large part of Vancouver’s draw. And yet there are plenty of locals who seldom, if ever, get to the beaches because the best ones are on the far West Side and are not readily accessible to those without a car or good cycling chops.”

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