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British Columbia B.C. conservation officers raid two sites in Mount Polley investigation

Grand Chief Ed John, right, Hereditary Chief of Tl'azt'en First Nation and political executive of the First Nations Summit, holds a photograph of the Mount Polley tailings pond breach as Chief Bev Sellars, of the Xat'sull First Nation, listens during a news conference in response to the report on the breach in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday February 3, 2015.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Conservation officers investigating the Mount Polley mine spill have finished raiding two sites, though it remains unclear what charges could be laid, or when.

Officers executed search warrants at the mine, near Williams Lake, and the company's Vancouver office on Tuesday. The spill occurred in August, when 25 million cubic metres of water and mining waste breached a tailings pond and entered Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake.

The investigation is being led by the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, a government agency that focuses on natural resource law enforcement and human-wildlife conflicts.

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Chris Doyle, an agency inspector, said Wednesday he could not indicate when the investigation would be complete.

"We don't have a firm timeline, just due to the complexity of the investigation. The goal is obviously to gather the best evidence possible," he said in an interview.

Mr. Doyle was tight-lipped when asked what officers were hoping to recover from the raids. More than 70 officers were involved, he said.

The search warrants have been sealed to ensure the integrity of the investigation, Mr. Doyle said. He said the investigation primarily focuses on offences in respect to the B.C. Environmental Management Act and the federal Fisheries Act "but is not limited to these acts."

Imperial Metals, which owns the mine, has said it understands the search warrants to be a normal means of investigation and the company has fully co-operated with authorities.

The raids occurred on the same day Imperial Metals marked the start of operations at its new Red Chris mine, in northern B.C.

The Conservation Officer Service is being assisted in the investigation by Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the RCMP. Mr. Doyle said the timing of the raids was not related to, or delayed by, the release of a report into the spill by a panel of experts.

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The report, released last Friday, found the design of the tailings pond dam failed to address the unstable foundation on which it sat, a flaw that was compounded over the many years the dam was repeatedly raised.

Chief Ann Louie, of the Williams Lake Indian Band, in an interview said the execution of search warrants was to be expected. She said officers would have to seize at least some documents to conduct a proper investigation.

Ms. Louie said the spill has raised concerns about a nearby spawning creek and future salmon runs. Given the size of the spill, and the foundational issues identified in the report, she said it was difficult to imagine the mine reopening.

"The tailings storage facility sits on a glacial underground, like a stream. So who's to say whether or not it will occur again," she said.

First Nations leaders, including Ms. Louie, earlier this week called on the province to act quickly on the report's findings. Ms. Louie said Wednesday she expects all seven recommendations to be implemented.

"B.C. needs mining reform in the worst way," she said.

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The recommendations were designed to reduce the potential for future failures. The report called for a combination of best available technology and best applicable practices.

The province has said it will require all operating mines with tailings facilities to provide a letter by the end of June that confirms their foundation is sound. It has said it will also require operating mines with tailings facilities to establish independent tailings dam review boards.

The province will launch its own review to determine how best to implement the remaining recommendations.

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