Private lawsuit over B.C. fuel spill to continue: “As it stands now, I’m going forward. … [If] the government doesn’t do its job, it’s left to the people to get justice”

Private lawsuit over B.C. fuel spill to continue by Sunny Dhillon, May 20, 2015, The Globe and Mail
A woman who launched a rare private prosecution following a fuel spill in B.C.’s Slocan Valley says she will continue the case on her own if the federal Public Prosecution Service doesn’t want to take it over.

Approximately 30,000 litres of fuel spilled into Lemon Creek in July, 2013. The fuel was being carried by a tanker truck operated by Executive Flight Centre Fuel Services Ltd., which had been hired by the province to supply fuel for helicopters battling forest fires. The truck crashed while being driven on a forest service road.

A report following the spill said at least 260 fish and a dozen water birds were killed. The report said more fish may have died, but had been swept away by the fast current. However, charges were not laid against the company under the Fisheries Act.

Marilyn Burgoon, an area resident who was evacuated as a result of the spill, decided to pursue a private prosecution – one launched by an individual not acting on behalf of a law-enforcement agency or Crown.

Ms. Burgoon’s application was approved by a Provincial Court judge in December. The judge approved charges against both the company and the province for violating a section of the Fisheries Act that forbids the deposit of any deleterious substance into fish-bearing waters.

The case will be back in court Monday to set a trial date. The Public Prosecution Service can take over private prosecutions but has not determined if it will do so in this instance.

Ms. Burgoon, in an interview, said if the government isn’t willing to act, she will continue on herself.

“As it stands now, I’m going forward. … [If] the government doesn’t do its job, it’s left to the people to get justice,” she said Wednesday.

Ms. Burgoon said she will fundraise to cover the costs of the case, which her lawyer estimated would be in the tens of thousands of dollars. If the Public Prosecution Service took over the file, it would cover the costs of the proceeding.

In an e-mail, a spokesperson for the Public Prosecution Service said the agency will not be represented at Monday’s court hearing and will not make a decision until an investigation into the spill has been completed. The spokesperson said Environment Canada and B.C.’s Conservation Officer Service are still investigating, and it’s unclear when their work will be done.

An Environment Canada spokesperson did not immediately provide a response to questions about the investigation. A B.C. government spokesperson also did not respond to requests for comment.

Wayne Smook, chief operating officer for Executive Flight Centre, said in an interview that he could not discuss a matter that was before the courts. He added, however, that the company has been testing samples from Lemon Creek, and the early results on areas such as fish counts have been positive. He said more information will be released in the near future.

Lilina Lysenko, Ms. Burgoon’s lawyer, said in an interview that private prosecutions are “very rare.” Of the applications that are made, very few are approved, she said.

“I think they’re critical to our justice system because they allow private individuals to step in and enforce our laws that are already in existence when it appears the government is reluctant, for whatever reason, to do so,” she said. “I think they’re crucial to upholding the rule of law in our democratic society.” [Emphasis added]

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