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Provincial government did not fail in its’ duty to warn the public says Commissioner’s Report on Mt. Polley tailings pond breach

The province’s privacy commissioner has determined that the provincial government did not fail in its’ duty to warn the public about the potential dangers of  Mt Polley’s tailings pond prior to the breach last year.

Elizabeth Denham issued her report Thursday morning which examined if the Ministry of Energy and Mines and Ministry of Environment had a duty to proactively disclose information in the public interest.

She says although there were two documented events that could have triggered a disclosure agreement, there was no obligation.

“And that was a crack in the surface of the dam and also an incident in May of 2014 when after a period of rain, it appeared that was  a risk that there may be a breach.”

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“In both of those scenarios through by looking at the documents, we determined that those risks were mitigated.”

She says the report does have some significant take away for the general public.

“If any information is in the public’s interest-clearly in the public interest, it does not have to be triggered by urgent circumstances.”

“The Ministries must now go back; they have to reevaluate all the information in their custody and determine what information meets the new broader test for disclosure.”

Denham says that historically, the provision of requiring proactive disclosure in the public interest had been interpreted overly narrowly in a way which disclosing undercut the public’s right to know.

She says this report will have significant effects on public policies within the province.

The Commissioner had initiated an investigation in August 2014 after receiving complaints alleging the government had failed in its duty to disclose information about the risk of the tailings pond breaching and potentially causing significant harm to the environment and to the public.

The report reviewed all records related to the structural integrity or safety of the tailings pond from January 1, 2009, to August 4, 2014.

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