National News

Imperial Metals issued B.C. mine eviction notice

By The Canadian Press

VICTORIA - A British Columbia First Nation has issued an eviction notice to Imperial Metals Corp. (TSX:III), the second such ejection aimed at the battered firm that was behind a massive tailings pond breach last week at the Mount Polley mine.

Also on Thursday, B.C.'s privacy commissioner issued notice that she was investigating to see if the government had duty to warn the public about the potential risks connected to the gold and copper mine in the province's Cariboo.

The Neskonlith Indian Band declared its intention to boot the company from the Ruddock Creek zinc and lead mine, a separate project in the same territory located near the headwaters of the Adams River.

The band claims the operation, about 150 kilometres northeast of Kamloops, threatens some of the most important watershed and salmon runs in the core of Secwepemc territory.

Earlier Thursday, members of the Tahltan First Nation in northwestern B.C. also met with Mines Minister Bill Bennett to discuss an ongoing blockade at the Red Chris Mine, which is also owned by Imperial Metals.

Millions of cubic metres of water and silt flooded Polley Lake and Hazeltine Creek when the Mount Polley mine's tailings pond burst on Aug. 4, but multiple water test samples have returned within drinking-water quality guidelines and the Interior Health's medical officer proclaimed fish safe to eat.

The Neskonlith band said in its notice it believes the breach could have been prevented if the company had "respected and implemented" the First Nation's law and environmental regulations.

"It is no longer acceptable for corporations foreign to Secwepemc territory to seek to access our lands and resources and benefit off them without the prior informed consent of the Sewepemc people and without full remuneration," said the notice.

It cited the landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling in June that granted aboriginal title for the first time in Canadian history to the Tsilhqot'in Nation, and said the Neskonlith hasn't signed any agreements with the company or the province.

"We have not provided our consent to the proposed mining development," the notice reads, addressing the company's owners, employees, insurers and investors. "We assert Secwepemc inherent jurisdiction and Aboriginal title."

Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson has said her band is prepared to enforce the eviction with a blockade, if necessary.

Bennett, meanwhile, was attempting on Thursday to persuade a group of Tahltan elders, known as the Klabona Keepers, to end their blockade of the Red Chris mine, south of Dease Lake.

The protest began last week as a demonstration of the elders' anger with Imperial Metals, but the minister said after personally sitting down with the group that he believes most are satisfied by a company offer to pay for an engineering review of that mine's tailings pond.

Giving the Tahltan total control of the independent review is key, Bennett said.

"They'd pick the engineering consulting firm, and I have promised that government will not allow the company to commence operations and start using the tailings pond until after the Tahltan have had this opportunity to get the independent oversight," he said.

Back in Victoria, privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she's now acting on a complaint her office received and will determine whether the government was legally bound to disclose information about the gold and copper mine prior to the failure.

"In the aftermath of the breach, concerns are being raised about what the government knew about the condition of the Mount Polley mine and whether the public should have been notified of potential risks before the disaster occurred," she said in a news release.

Denham noted that the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act imposes legal requirements on public bodies to provide people with timely information where there is a significant risk of harm, or where information is in the public interest.

Her office has the power to compel disclosure of documents, interview government and company officials, make determinations of compliance within the law, and recommend changes.

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