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Suspend permitting process for Ajax, now

August 12, 2016 9:23 P.M.
Ajax must prove "zero harm" to people of Kamloops. (KGHM Ajax photo)

Honourable Premier Christy Clark:

As a Kamloops City councillor actively engaged in the issues surrounding the possible approval of the gigantic KGHM Ajax mine right at our city’s boundaries, I formally request that you suspend the permitting process for this mine until two fundamental flaws, as found in 1.) and 2.) below, are rectified.

It is my belief that, taken together, these two flaws may well constitute an abuse of fair process contrary to Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  I refer you to Section 7 of the Charter:  “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. “                                                           

1.)  It is completely unacceptable that the Ajax plan for a massive tailings pond dam to be located in the hills directly above the City of Kamloops can be considered to be a legitimate and legal part of the permitting process.  This is a direct threat to the lives and security of the persons living below, for now and for all time, and a willful disregarding of evidence to the contrary.   In considering whether to approve activities such as those associated with the proposed KGHM Ajax mine, British Columbia needs to ensure that principles of fundamental justice are respected and that, in particular, there is a fair process in the case where the proposed activities may affect the right of life, liberty or security of the person.

I remind you of the catastrophic failure of the Mount Polley tailings pond dam two years ago and point out that the proposed Ajax mine tailings pond is to be approximately five times larger than Mount Polley, even with proposed adjustments for thickened tailings and reduced water content.   We need only imagine the dire consequences had there been a city of 90,000 residents just below Mount Polley dam.

I also remind you that the engineering panel commissioned by the province to study the Mount Polley failure unequivocally called for British Columbia to phase out storing water and tailings together behind dams, i.e., to eliminate tailings pond dams for new mines.  “Only this can provide the kind of fail-safe redundancy that prevents releases no matter what,” they wrote.  (Please see 9. “Where do we go from here?” p. 120, Mount Polley Review Panel.)

In light of this, for the provincial government to allow the consideration of placing a tailings pond dam above Kamloops – apparently because it is the most profitable mining method – is an arbitrary abdication of your foremost responsibility to protect the lives and security of persons in the City of Kamloops. It also takes us all into the theatre of the absurd following the Mount Polley collapse, for even though the Ajax tailings dam may be modified with such things as thickening and the addition of more rock beaches to try to obtain government approval, “a tailings pond dam is a tailings pond dam is a tailings pond dam” – there is just no getting around it.

Given the threat this poses to citizens’ right to life, liberty and security of the person, British Columbia’s obligation to ensure fair process and respect the fundamental principles of justice requires that you provide a detailed response explaining why you are not implementing the recommendations of the Mount Polley Review Panel, and how public health and safety of the residents of Kamloops will be addressed through credible alternative measures, with an opportunity for the public to be heard.  This obviously requires a suspension of the KGHM Ajax permitting process until these matters can be satisfactorily resolved.

2.)  It is completely unacceptable that the province has arbitrarily ignored the recent recommendation of Auditor General Carol Bellringer, and of the previous auditor general before her, that mine oversight in B.C. should be independent of the government ministry that issues permits and promotes mining investment, which is an obvious conflict of interest.  I remind you that the Auditor General’s 106-page report, released in May, was highly critical of the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the Ministry of Environment, for failing in their compliance and enforcement mandates.  “We concluded that the Ministry of Energy and Mines’ compliance and enforcement activities of the mining sector are inadequate to protect the province from significant environmental risks,” wrote Bellringer.

It is clear from this evidence-based, credible and authoritative investigation by the auditor general that independent monitoring and enforcement are critical to this mine on the doorstep of 90,000 residents – something that can and must be addressed before the permitting process can legitimately go forward.   The ability of the mines and environment ministries to monitor and enforce safe mining practices is a proven failure that must be corrected, and for you to arbitrarily continue to ignore this reality is an abuse of fair process with the very large potential to harm Kamloops residents.  Previous successful Charter cases have established that a law that restricts life, liberty or security of the person, when subjected to an evidence-based review of its operation, may be shown to be not in fact fulfilling the law’s objective, or even to be undermining the law’s objective by doing more harm than good.

I must tell you, honourable Premier, that the facts found in 1.) and 2.)  above lead me to believe that your government’s policies on the Ajax mine approval process are such that they shock the conscience of the public and are fundamentally opposed to the notions of fair process and justice held by Canadians.  I urge you to take immediate action to suspend the permitting process for KGHM Ajax until it has been aligned with the fundamental principles of justice and fair process, and I await your earliest response.  Please be advised that I have begun queries to legal counsel about what legal remedies may be available to residents of Kamloops who believe their lives and their security of person are being jeopardized by the current flawed permitting process.

In a separate but related matter, please also be advised that I intend to introduce a motion sometime this fall asking Kamloops City council to establish five conditions necessary for it to be able to support the operation of Ajax mine.  These are modeled after your own five conditions for the province to be able to give approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, and there has been considerable interest and support for this concept since I first spoke of it publicly; however, I have found strong feedback from Kamloops residents telling me that the issues in items 1.) and 2.) above must be addressed in the permitting process for them to be able to support these proposed conditions.

Those five conditions as originally drafted are:       

 “Following an extensive review and analysis of the massive KGHM/Ajax mine proposal at the edge of the Kamloops city boundaries, the City of Kamloops has arrived at five principles that must be addressed if it is to give acceptance to the proposed development of KGHM/Ajax Mine:

"1) Formal acceptance of the KGHM/Ajax mine development by Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation (Tk’emlups and Skeetchestn Indian Bands), which has land claims on the area of the mine.

"2) Successful completion of the formal environmental review and permitting processes, with a clear commitment that there will be “zero harm” to the health of Kamloops and area residents and the environment, as has been promised by the mine officials.

"3) World-leading compliance and enforcement practices for strict enforcement of zero-harm mining practices, to be enforced by a newly formed agency independent of, but with jurisdiction over, the Ministry of Mines and the Ministry of Environment. This new agency shall have the authority to issue incentive-based large fines and to order a permanent halt or reduction of mining operations if it becomes clear mining practices are damaging to health and/or the environment, including the livability of residents in nearby neighbourhoods.

"4) An ongoing joint review panel be established with representatives from KGHM Ajax, the Ministry of Mines, the Ministry of Environment, relevant First Nations and the City of Kamloops.

"It will monitor data from five new city-wide live monitoring stations provided by the operator and assess reports of mining practices that may be damaging to health and/or the environment. It will forward them as appropriate to the newly formed enforcement agency and release them to the public at the same time.

"5) City of Kamloops shall receive a fair share of financial compensation. 

"There shall also be a substantial reclamation bond in place and the establishment of a robust and functional property-compensation program and economic benefits from KGHM/Ajax, including provincial and federal governments, that reflects the risk borne by City of Kamloops residents.”

Sincerely yours,

DENIS J WALSH, Councillor 

Greg says:
August 17, 2016 06:06pm

This is a direct threat to the lives and security of the persons living below, for now and for all time, and a willful disregarding of evidence to the contrary.

Isn't contrary the wrong word in this statement.

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Patrick Leibel says:
August 17, 2016 05:43am

Thanks, Denis, for saying so eloquently that, which needed to be said!

Having lived here since 1968, I remember the putrid stink from the pulp mill which polluted our air (before the chimney on the mountain was constructed which helped immensely), and the addition of the world class water treatment plant, which ridded the city of its muddy tap water streaming from our faucets.

The city blossomed from a dirty industrial town to a sports paradise, where tourism draws thousands every year to the "Tournament Capital of Canada", a fisherman's paradise and the gateway to Sun Peaks. To risk throwing all of this progress away for some fast bucks and put in its place a permanent blight and potential threat to our safety, and a likely degradation of our air quality is to me both shortsighted and foolhardy.

Those who would profit from the mine care not for the lost tourism jobs and the doctors who would leave this town, rather than breathe daily the particulates which all who have lived here a long time know will blow over the town, settling on our property, in our pools and in our lungs.

It's disgusting that the Clark government (the one which was caught using secret private emails to do government business, and is bypassing an independent review on the business case for the site C Dam for the sake of "political expediency", should also ignore the recommendations of two Auditor Generals for independent oversight of mining regulations. These regulations are too often ignored to save dollars or potentially to move dollars into the "right" pockets, a possibility every time a conflict of interest exists.

It is Clark's job to remove conflicts of interest wherever they may occur in Government, not to embrace them!

The interests of big business have for too long determined the path of our society, and I believe it's time to put their interests secondary to the health and well-being of our prosperous community, and I applaud Mr. Walsh's letter and any councilor who has the temerity to speak up publicly for this most rational concept!

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Barbara Hembling says:
August 16, 2016 12:30pm

Thank you Dennis. I am entirely grateful for your work on my behalf, and on behalf of the health and well being of Kamloops residents. There are many Kamloopsians who care about the environment, but are reluctant to speak because of the resentment of those who are concerned about jobs. In order for young people to stop counting on jobs which don't require much education beyond high school, we need to stop ruining our environment and the healthy future of our children (including the future of those who want to make money) by stopping the allowing of these environmentally threatening projects, There are areas where we NEED trained people, where the opportunity is there right now, and the jobs are currently unfulfilled. Nursing is one. Society won't change until it is required to, it seems. We don't need to supply jobs in areas that will damage the community's health and threaten our well being.

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ajax oobigtooclose says:
August 15, 2016 10:03pm

Mr. Walsh has a right to say what he wants.
He did not say he represents everyone.
He sure represents me, my family, and my friends.
If money is needed for a lawsuit, ask and it will be found.
This proposed mine is a threat to the entire city.
If the existing laws and expert recommendations are taken seriously, the proposal should be suspended.
Thank you Mr. Walsh for articulating those necessary points to our Premier.

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Kim says:
August 15, 2016 05:07pm

Excellent letter Mr. Walsh. Evidence of this industry's complete disregard for regulation and the provincial government's inability or unwillingness to police operating mines is abundant. I'm thankful that you are calling this process out and not backing down. For those who believe this project is appropriate for Kamloops why don't you spend your time holding the mining CEO's and politicians accountable for all the projects currently in production and all the sites that are abandoned for the taxpayer to clean up? When crap like what is shown in this link is allowed to happen you have no one to blame but industry and the minister(s) responsible for the backlash. Ajax is marginal and best and likely to never see the light of day but if industry continues to flaunt their social contract and act like ass***** they are putting other, more viable, projects at risk and that is what you should be focusing on.
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/mining-company-facing-charges-for-alleged-damage-to-hecate-strait-island-1.3719194

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Eric says:
August 15, 2016 12:14pm

To all of you who are railing against Councillor Walsh in these comments, what exactly are you objecting to? All he's asking for is the Provincial government to take its own laws and regulations seriously as they apply to this mine application. Those laws were written for a reason - to balance business interests with public safety. In practice, business interests are trumping public safety because the enforcement of those laws is utterly toothless and non-objective... it says as much in both government-issued documents Walsh cited.

I get it... times are hard and people want jobs here in Kamloops so they don't have to travel to other (more industry-friendly) places for work. It seems like a great promise to have a huge company open here and give everybody great jobs with zero impact to the city... but just like every promise that sounds great, its probably not exactly true. Those mine jobs probably won't all go to people from Kamloops. There probably won't be the 'zero impact' they keep promising. If you think for a second that KGHM will prioritize the safety of Kamloops over it's profit margin just because it's the right thing to do, then you're ignoring history.

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Debbie Woodd says:
August 14, 2016 04:59pm

He does speak for me…and thousands of Kamloops residents…Get educated people and stop criticizing a individual who believes in following the laws of land, and who has the courage to speak up against injustice and Hypocrisy.

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Dale Shoemaker says:
August 13, 2016 08:33pm

Does it never stop? Things just get going and a few against anything that would give jobs to locals here start in again.
It seems to me its those that have good paying jobs in other fields that are against and want everything to stay as it is. This will not be the end of the world, it will be monitored and we won't even notice the mine is there

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Gary Hockett says:
August 13, 2016 07:34pm

Walsh does not speak for me. Walsh you should be removed. You have no business trying to stop growth for our community without all the facts.

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Jeff Shawaga says:
August 13, 2016 05:29pm

The only people who seem to object are retirees or people who are already settled and successful. There will always be people who get in the way of progress. Feeding families, providing jobs and security should be paramount.

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Randy says:
August 17, 2016 06:28pm

You might want to check out the survey done by Kamloops Voters Society in 2013 - check the age survey - the survey is based on 2,700 responses. You will find the 30-49 and 60+ demographic pretty close. You will also find over 50% of all demographic groups against the proposed project.

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James Graff says:
August 14, 2016 06:15pm

-Security...? This seems to be about the blasting that will take place, saddled up beside a very large holding pond, which everyone -redeemably- wants to consider 'Will never leak; leach or enter (either over time or a, say, blasting occurrence) the underground water table.' -A discovery found in Aberdeen (spring water veins) that is proven to be above Kamloops and thereby ends up filtrating down into the river and lake...and adds to a further dimension as to why people should not move to Kamloops, if the mine goes through with these plans. THAT is about security -over the long haul- above a fluctuating economic employment model which -everyone knows- mining is, in terms of other good sustainable job creation for a region like the Kamloops area, per se. This isn't simply a spotted owl (to use an imprecise, yet good contrasting illustration herein), this is about water, which is the health of every concerned citizen in the region. You wouldn't dare do this above the Shuswap.

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Graham Strachan says:
August 13, 2016 04:58pm

It's about time that Kamloops councillors take a position on the mine. I applaud Councillor Walsh for taking a stand and fully agree with the process he's layed out. The proposed mine is just too close and is fraught with too many unknowns.

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Sheila says:
August 13, 2016 03:55pm

Soon to be former councillor Denis Walsh does not speak for me on AJAX or any other topic that would provide jobs and much needed industry to the city of Kamloops. Industry is how we roll here Denis so if you don't like it please take your tie dyed beliefs somewhere else so we can thrive.

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Terry Gall says:
August 13, 2016 07:30pm

100% agree with this comment. Councillor Walsh does not speak for me either. In fact I believe the number I found people he speaks for is not large in number at all...it just so happens that negative people are often the loudest...

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As Usual says:
August 13, 2016 06:39pm

Dennis Walsh is Anti Industry all the way and could care less about the growth of Kamloops. He's been pretty clear that he's not even concerned with keeping the industry we currently have. I am not sure what he thinks this city runs on but I tell you what, it sure isn't minimum wage from Movie Mart!!

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Shelly says:
August 13, 2016 11:22am

Thank you, Denis!! Kamloops needs more city councillors to stand up and speak up for the future well-being of this community.

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Susan Eredics says:
August 13, 2016 09:17am

Thank you Mr. Walsh for speaking up on our behalf. No such mine would be permitted to operate within Vancouver or Victoria. It must not be allowed to come here either.

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John Goldsmith says:
August 13, 2016 08:10am

Walsh speaks for me and 1,000's of other Kamloops citizens, and we thank him for pursuing this matter.
Regarding Milobar, his leadership is suspect, his courage lacking.
The Liberals and KGHM/Ajax are trying to kick the can beyond May 2017 in order to get the application behind the next Provincial election.
Mr Walsh, there is all sorts of money available in Kamloops to fund legal costs to pursue an action against KGHM/Ajax and if necessary the Province, just ask for financial support and it will come.

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Peter says:
August 13, 2016 01:03am

If Walsh is speaking as a Kamloops City Councilor he must have approval from the Mayor and Council. But I know he has done this on he's own with only his closed minded approach to Ajax. Dennis you do not speak for all Kamloops citizens with this letter. Mr. Milobar please have Dennis suspended from council until he understands protocol. There must be some kind of rule within council standards of conduct that Dennis has broken. It's time for common sense from this Councilman, but I fear that is barking up the wrong tree.

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Mike says:
August 13, 2016 06:52pm

Mayor Miloar enough is enough! When are you going to reign in this pathetic one sided council? What about the rest of your voters? Why would a council and mayor even consider deciding on a project yes or no before the EA was completed and done? It makes not sense and all you need to do is take a look at social media to see this city is sick and tired of it. I am not even sure I think Ajax is a good idea but what I do know is that council has a civic duty to all people not just their buddies on the street.

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Marl says:
August 13, 2016 06:47pm

So as long as he's speaking for the thousands of Anti Ajax's he's your guy right John Goldsmith? How about me and the thousands of Pro Ajaxers? I guess we just don't matter because its all about you and this environmental extremism at any cost green team of councillors currently in City Hall.

A city Councillor has a duty to all his/her voters and has no business coming out either for or against a project of this magnitude prior to the governing bodies in charge making the final determination.

It's a pathetic move by Councillor Walsh but thankfully this government seems to have seen through the propaganda group saying NO to past requests and even chastising them for not doing their research.


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bronwen scott says:
September 9, 2016 08:05am

Actually, a city councilor has a duty to stick to his/her campaign platform as understood by those who elected him/her. No city councilor is expected to represent the views of everyone in the community--that's why there are 8 of them. Denis campaigned on an anti-Ajax platform, and, apparently, enough Kamloops residents agreed with his views to get him elected. He has every right (and responsibility) to do what he can to represent those people. If the pro-Ajax councilors (presumably elected by those who support Ajax) choose to write a letter, they, too, can do that. But they haven't. What does this tell us? (1) No councilor wants to express support for Ajax in case it backfires on them in the next election; (2) No councilors actually support Ajax; (3) Councilors in support of Ajax don't like to write letters. Pick one.

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Chris says:
August 13, 2016 04:17pm

Fully agree with you, this guy is speaking his own beliefs saying it's the views of Kamloops citizens is wrong

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James Graff says:
August 13, 2016 11:08am

-If I've read correctly from Mr. Walsh's letter herein: This is common sense...completely; for the benefit of the many, which all governments are therein prescribed to provide to their citizens, under a utilitarian approach to governance. Deal with it, Peter.

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Bianca says:
August 13, 2016 07:59am

He is a Kamloops City Councilor and does not have a boss. I am grateful that he is continuing to work on this issue and he is not sitting on his hands. He didn't say he speaks on behalf of all of city council- so what's your problem?

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