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More witnesses testify on Banks Island environmental mess

Mine inspectors were called as witnesses Oct. 10-13 in the Prince Rupert Courthouse
Mine sediments flow toward a lake from the Yellow Giant Gold Mine on Banks Island. This photo was taken in June 2015 by former mine safety manager Brent Edmunds. (Submitted photo)

Several people who inspected the Banks Island Gold Mine testified in court Oct. 10-13 as witness statements on the environmental disaster continued.

The Banks Island Gold Mine, which is on Gitxaała Nation territory, was ordered to cease operations in 2015 by the Ministry of the Environment due to permit and environmental infractions. Two years later, the province is taking the company’s former CEO Benjamin Mossman, mine manager Dirk Meckert and aquatic biologist Allegra Cairns to court. Cairns will be tried separately.

On Oct. 10, conservation officer Constable Gareth Scrivner took the stand. “We obviously believe they are guilty because we put the case in front of the court,” Scrivner told the Northern View a day after his testimony. “We’re in the process of calling the witnesses” and proving non-compliance of the permit conditions, he said.

Environmental protection officer Neil Bailey, who inspected the mine in 2015 on behalf of the Ministry of Environment, also testified on Oct. 10.

The defence is asking the Crown to drop all 35 charges, claiming that the company received a permit from the ministry that contained an error. In the written submissions filed by Mossman and Meckert’s lawyer, the defendants believed that the province’s permit allowed them to “discharge waste into the environment.”

“Our clients have pled not guilty to all charges and will defend themselves vigorously until the end of this trial. We intend to vindicate our clients,” defence attorney Chilwin Cheng said in an email.

James Herbert, the interim manager for Gitxaała Environmental Monitoring (GEM), watched several days of the trail in court last week.

While the trial is still in its technical stage and under voir dire — a publication ban — Herbert said GEM has “been following the progression of the case and are hopeful for a result that holds individuals responsible for their actions.”

He said the case may be precedent-setting in Canada because individuals are being tried as personally and criminally responsible, rather than just a company being fined. “One of the reasons we’re really interested in this is because we want to have something to point to to indicate to industries that they have to be responsible. Their permitting conditions are not just check marks on a piece of paper.”

GEM, Herbert said, has always been pleased the case was going to trial. “I want to say it’s the best outcome of one of these investigations, but it should be the expected outcome. We want to see people who do criminal acts be held criminally responsible for it. Because Gitxaała as a nation doesn’t have a court or the enforcement agency themselves, it’s nice to see the province stepping up and fulfilling that role.”

Final evidence was submitted last week, and counsel will argue the admissibility of that evidence on Feb. 26, 2018.

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