CALGARY — Alberta provincial court’s guilty verdict in the Syncrude ducks case confirms the need to eliminate toxic tailings ponds and the risks they pose, Ecojustice said today.

Some 1,600 ducks died after landing in a Syncrude tailings pond in April 2008. The pond’s bird deterrent systems were not in place at the time.

Judge K.E. Tjosvold of the Provincial Court of Alberta found Syncrude guilty today of allowing hazardous substances to contact animals under the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and guilty of depositing hazardous substances in an area frequented by migratory birds under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act.

No convictions were entered. Further proceedings this summer will determine whether convictions should be entered on both counts because the charges are similar in nature. Sentencing will follow those arguments.

“This decision confirms that tar sands operators must take responsibility for their actions. Not only did Syncrude create the hazard to the ducks and other wildlife in the form of the tailings pond, they failed to take the necessary actions to prevent the ducks from landing on these ponds,” said Barry Robinson, the Ecojustice staff lawyer who first launched legal action against Syncrude in 2009.

He said harm to wildlife is just one of the problems tailings ponds pose. They also leak hazardous substances into surface water and groundwater, which allow toxins to seep into and threaten entire

Ecojustice commenced the private prosecution against Syncrude on behalf of an individual, Jeh Custer, in January 2009 when it appeared that both the federal and provincial governments had delayed taking action. Both the federal and provincial governments subsequently laid charges and the matter went to trial in March and April of 2010.