Request for Judicial Commission of Public Inquiry into BC Mining Laws

The Mount Polley mine disaster of 2014 opened a Pandora’s box, revealing weak mining laws, poor oversight and enforcement, poor corporate practices, underfunded financial sureties for mine clean up, poor dam design, and eye-brow raising corporate donations.

The chaos of BC’s mining regulatory system was laid bare.  

Today, the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre released a new report commissioned by the Fair Mining Collaborative. Together, the two groups also issued a formal request to Premier Christy Clark and the Lieutenant Governor in Council asking the government to establish a Judicial Commission of Public Inquiry into improving BC’s mining regulations. 

The report notes that BC’s mining regulatory system is in a state of ‘profound dysfunction’ and is in need of wide-ranging reforms. “In the past, public inquiries have been established when the public had lost confidence in the regulation of an important B.C. industry […] Fortunately, those public inquiries have helped to improve regulatory systems and restore public confidence,” say the authors of the report. 

The request for a Public Inquiry is backed by a coalition of Indigenous, environmental and community groups who point to a number of serious issues.  

BC is the worst province in Canada for allowing unsecured environmental clean-up liabilities compared to other major jurisdictions. BC’s unsecured mining liability stands at a whopping $1.5 billion – which means BC taxpayers are on the hook more than other Canadians for cleaning up the mess left behind by mining companies. 

BC’s mining laws are based on the 19th century gold rush principle of ‘free entry’, which means that anyone can stake and register a claim on line without needing to consult with anyone, including Indigenous peoples or private landowners. 

Concerns raised by BC’s Auditor General last year that BC’s lack of limits on donations from corporations makes it ripe for regulatory capture; in other words, BC could act in the best interests of the donor, rather than the public good.  According to a Vancouver Sun investigation, since 2005 two mining companies have donated over $4 million to the BC Liberal Party. 

The petitioners want the Commission to investigate ten key areas (detailed in the ELC report) and pose a number of questions, among them:

  • Do current standards for tailings storage facilities fall short of the standard recommended by the Mount Polley Expert Panel? 
  • Are mining companies cleaning up their own mess? 
  • How can the Province best ensure that mining companies – not taxpayers – pay to reclaim mines? What is the best way to protect taxpayers and others from the current massive potential liability identified by the Auditor General? 
  • Should the 19th century “Free Entry” Mineral Tenure System be reformed to protect private landowners, First Nations and the environment?

As British Columbians face a provincial election in May, questions about how well BC’s mines are regulated and monitored are a huge concern. According to the number of well-regarded studies produced over the last 2 years, British Columbians have every reason to be concerned and to demand reforms necessary to safeguard the rights of all British Columbians, without exception. 

For more information, please visit Mining and Human Rights in BC: the Mount Polley Disaster