In solidarity with those fighting to protect Quesnel Lake from the effects of the Mount Polley mine disaster, Amnesty International staff and volunteers took part in a caravan from Vancouver to Quesnel Lake, BC between August 1 and 5th.
The caravan included adults, youth, and children who were inspired to meet with land and water defenders fighting to protect the environment and to share our solidarity and gratitude for their work on all our behalf.
On August 1st, we visited with Sto:lo water defenders on Cheam First Nation lands on the banks of the Fraser River in BC’s Lower Mainland. Rick and June Quipp spoke to our delegation about the stressors affecting migrating salmon, such as deforestation from logging pine beetle killed wood, climate heating which raises the temperature of the river, and commercial over-fishing. They talked about how their community sent precious cans of salmon to Indigenous communities who were prevented by the disaster from carrying out their annual fish harvest. Salmon is a crucial part of a healthy diet in Indigenous communities around Quesnel Lake.
[insert photo of June Quipp or Rick Quipp]
We spent that night in Kamloops, BC, in the southern Secwepemc territory, and met with Amnesty activists who had travelled from Kelowna to share their solidarity with those harmed by the disaster and a beautiful handpainted banner.
[photo of banner]
The following day, the caravan travelled up to Blue River, near Wells Grey Provincial Park, to meet with the Tiny House Warriors and learn about their unique campaign to draw attention to their opposition to the TransMountain Pipeline. The group has built a tiny house village across the road from the proposed site of a worker camp to highlight theways in which resource development increases violence against Indigenous women and girls.
The families that make up the Tiny House Warriors village have been subjected to despicable online attacks and threats for their stance on the TransMountain pipeline. Fears for their safety are growing and the risks they face have increased since the Alberta government announced it would fund a ‘war room’ to expose environmentalists as ‘liars’ who receive foreign funding aimed at destroying Canada’s own oil and gas industry. In an open letter, Amnesty International called on Premier Jason Kenney to abandon this strategy and ensure environmental defenders are able to freely express their views without fear of harm or human rights abuse.
We are concerned about the well-being of environmental human rights defenders who are subjected to on-line and in person abuse because they oppose Canadian extractives industries. Canada must protect the rights of Indigenous and environmental human rights defenders to freedom of expression.
On the evening of August 2, the caravan arrived in Williams Lake amidst a major rainstorm. We were unable to pitch our tents that night, but were all taken in by a good Samaritan. After a delicious breakfast the following morning, we left for the tiny, picturesque community of Mitchell Bay on Quesnel Lake where we met with the Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake (CCQL). The CCQL is made up of full and part-time residents of the lake who were harmed by the 2014 disaster. The CCQL works with Indigenous and other community members to raise awareness about the impact of the disaster and ongoing discharges of filtered mine waste into Quesnel Lake. In May 2019, Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine suspended its operations and laid off hundreds of workers but even so, continues to discharge waste-water into Quesnel Lake.
In 2018, the group launched an environmental appeal of Imperial Metals’ water discharge permit. In 2017, the province of BC permitted the company to use Quesnel Lake as part of its water treatment process. The permit allows the company to discharge mine waste water that is filtered – but not treated – into the lake. [link to video]. Earlier this year, to the outrage of residents, the company filed for an amendment to its permit to allow it to discharge in perpetuity. That decision is pending.
Support the CCQL’s environmental appeal by purchasing one of our beautiful commemorative posters [hyperlink].
[photo of poster]
In April, a lengthy criminal investigation into the disaster concluded and investigators submitted their recommendations for charges to the Crown. The deadline for charges related to violations of the Federal Fisheries Act was August 4.
Throughout the August long-weekend we waited to hear whether the Crown would press charges against Imperial Metals and others responsible for the Mount Polley disaster. Disappointingly, charges were not announced. While there remains faint hope that criminal charges may still be possible, the lack of a statutory deadline for indictable offenses means that we don’t know when charges could be laid. The frustration and feeling of abandonment among residents was palpable during our visit.
However, on August 5 the CCQL went ahead with its celebration of resilience and unity in the face of disaster. Amnesty presented residents with a colourful banner of wild salmon solidarity messages we had gathered from Amnesty members. They were delighted to read the beautiful, heartfelt messages of justice and solidarity from Amnesty activists and the public and to see the gorgeous art work BC’s wild salmon inspired.
[Photo Community members and caravan participants pose with the wild salmon solidarity banner in Mitchell Bay.]
[photo Close up of a Wild Salmon detail]
Later that the afternoon, we travelled to Hazeltine Creek, formerly a tiny creek hidden in the brush, but now exposed within a barren landscape where, in 2014, 25 billion cubic litres of mine waste and water carved a 9 kilometre canyon out of the land as it gushed out of the tailings dam.
Youth caravan participants described the clean-up efforts by the company around Hazeltine Creek as ‘unimpressive’ and said they felt sad, angry and upset to witness the damage caused by the disaster. They said that other youth will be shocked and have a hard time believing that a disaster like this could have happened in BC.
At the end of the visit, we delivered a heartfelt message from Amnesty members to the CCQL: You are not alone and we will support you in your fight to protect Quesnel Lake.
Please continue to support the call for justice for the Mount Polley mine disaster and support the initiative to reform BC’s mining laws by visiting our website: www.amnesty.ca/mountpolley