The federal government has refused to comment on the charges being pressed against Vale Newfoundland and Labrador for alleged illegal release of liquid waste into Anaktalak Bay, Labrador.
Three charges are being laid against Vale relating to alleged breaches of the federal Fisheries Act over the course of almost a month in October 2011.
In response to questions on the case, Environment Canada issued a response by email, received by The Telegram at 9 p.m. Wednesday: “Thank you for contacting Environment Canada. However, as this case is currently before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment.”
The paper posed questions about the Vale case to communications staff at the provincial and federal level throughout the day Wednesday.
The questions — including whether or not the provincial government was aware of the allegations against Vale — have bounced between the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) representatives, a provincial spokesperson for DFO, the Environment Canada communications office in Ottawa and provincial communications staff from Service NL to Environment and Conservation.
There has been no response to any questions about environmental monitoring at Voisey’s Bay, interaction between regulators at the provincial and federal level, or the alleged environmental crime that has prompted the charges against Vale, other than to say that case is before the courts.
A spokesman for the company has also declined comment.
Vale charged with illegal dumping in Labrador
Mining giant Vale has been accused of breaches of the federal Fisheries Act, for allegedly dumping toxic material into Anaktalak Bay, Labrador over the course of almost a month.
Specifically, the company has been accused of depositing “acutely lethal effluent,” mine waste, into the waters of Edwards Cove, Anaktalak Bay — where the port site for Vale’s Voisey’s Bay nickel mine is located.
The illegal dumping is said to have taken place from Oct. 4, 2011 to Oct. 31, 2011.
The federal government is pressing criminal charges against the company.
The case was called in Courtroom 7 in provincial court in St. John’s at 9:37 a.m. Wednesday morning.
The charges were not read aloud and, by 9:38 a.m., the case had been set over to Aug. 30 — allowing time for further disclosure of information from government to company lawyers.
Court documents state Vale Newfoundland and Labrador is facing three counts: one count of illegally depositing waste into a waterway frequented by fish; one count of failing to take reasonable measures following the dumping to prevent the occurrence, and a single count of failing to submit relevant environmental monitoring reports by February 2012.
“It’s not appropriate for me to comment on a matter that is before the courts,” said Vale Newfoundland and Labrador spokesman Bob Carter, when contacted by The Telegram about the charges.
It is unclear whether or not the provincial Department of Environment and Conservation participated in the investigation into the case, or if the provincial government as a whole was aware of the allegations at the time of the negotiation of the expansion of Voisey’s Bay into an underground mine.
“Questions should be directed to Environment Canada as they laid the charges under the federal Fisheries Act,” stated an emailed response to The Telegram’s questions from a provincial government spokeswoman.
In midst of regulatory change
The federal government’s case against Vale Newfoundland and Labrador was officially filed on June 12, 2013.
It was called in court the very day new federal Fisheries Act regulations were to be tabled, Gazetted, and officially brought into effect, according to the federal NDP’s deputy leader and environment critic, Megan Leslie.
“Government has failed to table the regulations today and my understanding is they won’t be out until the fall,” said the MP for Halifax.
“Until we have new regulations, were still operating under the old regime,” she said. “That old regime is what allows this case to come forward, because it’s about protecting fish habitat, it’s about protecting marine ecosystems — so it is the old fisheries legislation that is actually allowing the government to go after Vale for an acutely lethal effluent dump.”
Leslie was challenged on the idea the allegations against Vale could not have resulted in charges once the incoming changes to the Fisheries Act take effect.
“I’m not 100 per cent sure, because unless we have the new regulations we don’t have all the nuts and bolts details,” she responded, acknowledging the regulations include protections for fish that are of commercial, aboriginal or cultural importance.
“So the question is are there fish that are of commercial importance in this waterway? Are there fish that are of cultural importance? I have no idea, but there is very strong likelihood that this case wouldn’t go forward with the new regulations.”
The Telegram contacted both the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada about the case.
Questions bounced from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans offices to a spokeswoman based in Newfoundland and Labrador, who ultimately said response to questions on the case would be handled by Environment Canada.
No response was received from Environment Canada as of press time.