Federal lawyers elect to lay charges in Lemon Creek fuel spill
Justice is back on the menu for those awaiting an outcome in the Lemon Creek fuel spill.
Federal government lawyers have agreed to bring a total of eight charges to court in the aftermath of a Slocan Valley tanker spill three years ago.
Last Tuesday in Nelson Provincial Court Last week, the federal government laid eight charges against Executive Flight Centre, the province and the driver of the tanker truck under the Fisheries Act and the Environmental Management Act.
The Slocan Valley resident who took up the legal mantle of the case in the wake of the spill, Marilyn Burgoon, was very pleased that there were so many charges laid.
“Yes, it does justify all the work I have put in to it as without bringing attention to the Fisheries Act violations,” she said.
“I believe that the disturbing trend in B.C. over the past years of toxic spills by corporations, and the unwillingness of government to hold polluters accountable, would have been repeated in Lemon Creek, the Slocan River and the Kootenay River.”
The original charges Burgoon had laid against the province and Executive Flight Centre were stayed by federal lawyers in January while they conducted further environmental assessment.
But having new charges laid, and a court date set for Sept. 13 in Nelson to begin hearing them, makes all of the legal wrangling she had to do for two years worth it, Burgoon felt.
“I am pleased that there is a way that a citizen can bring charges, although often it is prohibitive due to the financial burden,” she said.
The West Coast Environmental Law Dispute Resolution Fund made it possible for her to put the work into bringing the matter before the courts. But it wasn’t until there was a change in federal government that the case had a chance to gain the support of the Crown.
“Many people wrote to the public prosecutor and the Trudeau government in support of justice for Lemon Creek and it is a reminder that we should write letters and democracy works when the people participate,” she said.
On July 25, 2013, a tanker truck owned by Executive Flight Centre was delivering fuel for helicopters fighting a large forest fire in the Slocan Valley when the truck slid into the creek off of a logging road and dumped fuel into Lemon Creek, about 14 kilometres north of Winlaw.
The driver had driven up an unmanned forestry road that couldn’t support the truck’s weight, the vehicle and its contents subsequently rolling into the creek.
As a result, 33,000 litres of jet fuel spilled into the creek, the Slocan River and the Kootenay River and washed into the soil and the banks of those waterways. The cumulative effect of the spill was the death of numerous fish, and incalculable harm to the rivers’ ecology, Burgoon claimed in her original documents filed to the court.
“I believe stiff fines should be imposed and I also hope that stronger regulations around transportation of toxic materials are part of protecting the environment,” Burgoon noted, “especially in areas like the Slocan Valley where Highway 6 follows the Slocan River and many creeks flow in and around homes and transportation routes.”
Burgoon said it was essential that a message of accountability be sent when fuel is spilled in pristine areas such as Lemon Creek and the Slocan Valley, resulting in the destruction of fisheries and threatening public health.
British Columbians have already spoken up on this issue, with “thousands” emailing the federal government asking them to take over and pursue this prosecution, Burgoon explained. She spearheaded an online campaign to remind Canada’s Justice minister and Canadian Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould via email that justice was needed for Lemon Creek.
Executive Flight Fuel Services has contended liability did not rest with them because of the rough and inexact nature of the directions they were given by the province to the delivery point for the fuel.
That contention has not stopped Burgoon from trying to hold the company accountable for what played out.
In December, 2014 B.C. provincial court judge Mayland McKimm approved a charge under Section 36 (provisions that prohibit polluting a waterway) of the Fisheries Act against the province and Executive Flight Fuel Services Ltd. for their role in the massive fuel spill into Lemon Creek.
The Act allows for private charges to be laid. However, the evidence must first be reviewed by a judge before a summons to court can be issued.
Burgoon had used the legal counsel of the West Coast Environmental Law Dispute Resolution Fund for her legal case.