Province acquitted in mine pollution case by Brian McAndrew
The provincial environment ministry was acquitted yesterday of charges that it allowed toxins from the former Deloro gold mine and refinery to flow into an eastern Ontario river.
The ministry has controlled the property in the tiny village of Deloro for more than 20 years and spent more than $18 million trying to keep arsenic and other pollutants from getting into the Moira River.
The arsenic, derived from gold refining, along with heavy metals such as cadmium, copper, nickel and zinc, continues to seep into the river, which flows south about 45 kilometres, past Belleville and into the Bay of Quinte.
Eight charges accusing the ministry of violating the Ontario Water Resources Act and federal Fisheries Act were laid privately in 1997 by the Environmental Bureau of Investigation, a branch of Energy Probe, and prosecuted by the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. The provincial Attorney-General’s department took over the case and continued the prosecution with Sierra’s assistance in Ottawa.
In a 46-page judgment that acknowledges pollution was still entering the river, Madame Justice Celine Dorval accepted the ministry’s defence that it plans to continue trying to clean up the site. Abandoned by its previous owner, the mine is considered Ontario’s biggest toxic hotspot.
“She believed their defence of due diligence. Our position was that 20 years of planning was a bit too long,” said Sierra lawyer Doug Chapman.
“It was a surprise and a shock,” said Chapman, who was confident of a conviction. `’Maybe now they’ll do something to clean it up.”
A provincial study estimated it could take another $18 million or more to clean up the property.