Nearly five nears after one of the worst mine disasters in B.C. history, hope for federal charges is fading as a deadline quickly approaches.
Prosecutors in Ottawa have until Sunday to lay charges under the Fisheries Act against Imperial Metals Corp., the owners of the Mount Polley copper and gold mine where a tailings dam collapsed on Aug. 4, 2014.
The collapse sent more than 24 million cubic metres of mine waste and sludge into Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake, creating a major environmental hazard.
WATCH: Will charges ever be laid in the Mt. Polley mine disaster?
Residents in the area near the mine were put under a complete water ban. The mine was repaired and reinforced and has been fully operational since July 2017.
One month after operations resumed, the provincial government announced there would be no provincial charges into the tailings dam collapse. The following year, the B.C. Prosecution Service ruled a stay in proceedings in a private prosecution related to the tailings pond spill.
The possibility of Fisheries Act charges came with a five-year deadline from the date of the disaster, which is mandated under federal law.
But with one day left, environmentalists are feeling less than confident.
“We’re getting right down to the wire here,” Joe Foy, executive director of the Wilderness Committee, said Friday. “It’s very important that charges are laid.
“Many Canadians are wondering, ‘Are the rich and powerful, are the big mining companies going to be held to the same standards as the rest of us are?’ Canadian justice, I think, is on the line here.”
WATCH: (Aired Aug. 28, 2018) New report says Mount Polley disaster highlights industry problems
Reports by the province’s chief inspector of mines found the collapse was caused by a poorly designed dam that didn’t properly account for drainage and erosion failures.
In April this year, a team of officials from Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the B.C. Conservation Officer Service submitted a charge package to federal prosecutors after a more than four-year investigation.
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada has yet to comment on the package or whether a decision will be made by Sunday.
Charges under the Fisheries Act could expose Imperial Metals to fines of up to $8 million.
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However, there is no timeline for prosecutors to lay more serious charges through an indictment, which could come with higher maximum fines of $12 million.
Foy is hoping justice is served no matter what, arguing charges are necessary to send a clear environmental message.
“If the deadline is missed, we’re going to be looking for a more fulsome explanation of what’s going on here.”
Foy also said charges could potentially lead to legislation that would better regulate the mining industry to prevent future disasters.
WATCH: (Aug. 4, 2017) No provincial charges in Mount Polley dam disaster
A report released last year warned B.C. could see at least two more tailings dam collapses in the next decade, and potentially six within 30 years.
In November, Imperial Metals announced it had received $108 million after an action for damages was settled among all parties, including engineering firms, for the dam collapse.
The company announced in January it was suspending operations at the Mount Polley mine due to sagging copper prices.
—With files from Keith Baldrey, Richard Zussman and the Canadian Press