Two years after the Ministry of Environment ordered Banks Island Gold Mine to shut down its operations for environmental infractions, the province is now taking the company’s ex-president, mine manager and aquatic biologist to court.
One of the first witnesses to take the stand was former safety manager of the site, Brent Edmunds. With 40 years in the mining industry, Edmunds was hired in April 2015 and once on site, he said he saw many labour issues and he was alerted about uncontained spillage. In May 2015, he toured the site and took photos of liquid discharge from the mine.
“All these tailings were all over the place,” he said to the Northern View, a day after his testimony.
He took photos of mill tailings, waste product from the mine, leaking into a creek at one site, and flowing into a swamp and lake area at another site.
Edmunds said he made an anonymous tip regarding concerns he had over the health and safety of many of the Indigenous employees.
“It’s only because of God’s grace that some one was not killed there while they were operating,” he said, regarding one incident in particular where he witnessed people going into the mine without ventilation.
“I felt powerless to stop it.”
He said he also sent photos and documents to the Inspector of Mines, and included the Ministry of Environment in the email. In June, he returned home for his two weeks off and never returned to the site.
“I was fired because I was trying to do my job,” he said.
In response to Edmunds, defence attorney, Chilwin Cheng said in an email that “Banks Island chose not to engage Mr. Edmunds after his probationary period ended. He was not dismissed. His departure coincided with the temporary layoff of a number of employees of Banks Island Gold after the government issued its shutdown order in early July.”
The Yellow Giant Gold Mine on Banks Island within the Gitxaała Nation was shut down on July 15 by the Ministry of Energy and Mines.
Former CEO of now-bankrupt Banks Island Gold Mine Ltd., Benjamin Mossman, as well as mine manager, Dirk Meckert, and aquatic biologist Allegra Cairns are facing 35 charges under the federal Fisheries Act, provincial Environmental Management Act and Water Act.
Mossmann and Meckert’s attorney, Cheng, is asking the Crown counsel to drop the charges.
The defence claims they received a permit from the ministry containing an error that led to them to believe they were allowed to “discharge waste into the enviornment.”
The Gitxaała Environmental Monitoring (GEM) team based in Prince Rupert has been attending the court case to report back to the community.
“GEM on behalf of Kitkatla Nation are happy to see it going to trial and we’re watching it intently. We’re interested to see what the results of the trial will be,” said James Herbert, regulatory affairs manager, GEM.
Last week, aquatic biologist Cairns took the stand as the Crown’s first witness, more testimonies are expected to come from the mining inspectors. The next court date is set for Oct. 10.
The Yellow Giant mining site on Banks Island is still under remediation. The Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources stated in an email that it had removed all hazardous materials by May 2016. In June 2017, the ministry set up a site-wide water quality monitoring program to determine areas needing remediation.
Remediation has cost the ministry approximately $250,000 out of the $420,000 confiscated from Banks Island Gold Ltd.’s reclamation security deposit.
The ministry said it has shared the final reclamation and closure plan with the Gitxaała First Nation and will continue to work with them until the program has been completed.