On February 25, 2016, British Columbia Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett (the “Minister“) announced that the Government of British Columbia will introduce changes to the province’s mining laws designed to give the Ministry of Energy and Mines (the “Ministry“) greater oversight and enforcement powers with respect to mining activities. In his announcement, the Minister stated that the changes will, “provide the Ministry with more tools for compliance and enforcement, strengthening British Columbia’s regulatory framework so we can build an even safer, more sustainable mining industry in the province.”
The changes come in the wake of the August 2014 tailings dam failure at the Mount Polley mine in the Cariboo region of British Columbia. The dam failure resulted in the release of millions of cubic metres of water, rock and potential contaminants into Polley Lake and other nearby sensitive water sources. Several separate investigations were launched in response to the dam failure and the proposed legislative changes are a result of recommendations made upon the conclusion of those investigations. In addition to the announced changes, the Minister has indicated that he expects that more changes will occur in respect oversight of mining activities in British Columbia.
Under the current Mines Act (British Columbia), the Ministry is limited to prosecuting offences through the courts and pursuing indirect methods of enforcement, such as issuing stop-work orders or revoking mining permits. In addition, the maximum penalties for an offence are currently $100,000 and up to one year of imprisonment.
Under the announced legislative changes, the Ministry will have the power to issue administrative and monetary penalties without having to go to court. In addition, the maximum penalties for offences will be increased to $1 million and up to three years imprisonment. The Minister did not indicate when these changes would take effect.
The new enforcement regime will bring oversight of mining activities in line with other resource activities. Resource regulators such as the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission and the Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations can already issue administrative and monetary penalties without having to go to court.