Ecojustice Case – Nature Case Status: In Progress

Holding De Beers to account for mercury monitoring failure

Sue TanLawyer
Julia CroomeLawyer
Wildlands LeagueClient
Mine in Northern Ontario
Photo by Allan Watt Kimberly via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

De Beers Canada’s Victor Mine is nestled in the James Bay lowlands in the Attawapiskat watershed – part of the largest wetland on the planet. Victor Mine is the first and only diamond mine in Ontario, but it recently got attention for all the wrong reasons.

When the Ontario government gave De Beers the green light to mine for rough diamonds, it outlined conditions in its approval – one of them being that De Beers must report methylmercury levels at its downstream monitoring station.

De Beers Canada has a legal responsibility to report methylmercury levels downstream accurately and fully from its mine.

Methylmercury is a toxin that bioaccumulates in the surrounding watershed and aquatic life, and can then be passed into humans. The reporting program was intended to act as an early warning system in case of heightened methylmercury levels downstream from the mine.

In 2016, it emerged that De Beers did not report information for five out of nine monitoring stations between 2009 and 2014, which is in violation of their permit. The province has not held De Beers accountable for this unlawful failure to report.

As a result, Ecojustice launched a private prosecution to hold De Beers accountable to their permit.

 

Why is Ecojustice involved?

 

Ecojustice is taking this action for two reasons — to make sure there is accountability and enforcement of existing laws, and to make sure that in the future De Beers adequately monitors and reports the release of toxins like methylmercury.

We’re alleging that De Beers Canada broke the law by failing to meet the reporting conditions of its permit. The Ontario government had the opportunity to prosecute those failures, but they chose not to do so. We’re using the private prosecution, a tool available for citizen informants, to demand accountability of public institutions.

 

What would a victory mean?

 

A win in this case would be important for making sure that mining and natural resource extraction companies comply with the conditions of their permit. This case would set a precedent for the so-called “Ring of Fire” in northern Ontario and how mining is regulated. 

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