Warnings About Threats to the Environment and Public Health and Safety issued by
University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre
The provincial government routinely fails its legal duty to promptly inform citizens of risks to public health and safety, warn legal scholars at the University of Victoria.
Failures to disclose include air pollution, deteriorating infrastructure, parasite infestations, contaminated water and disease risk. Relevant information has been withheld from potential victims, scientists and the media – in some cases for almost a decade, says the university’s Environmental Law Clinic following a study of six cases across B.C.
The group has asked the province’s information and privacy commissioner for a full investigation into what it says appears to be “an ongoing system-wide failure” by government to disclose in timely fashion information with clear public safety implications.
The pattern needs to be addressed “before a catastrophe occurs,” it warned.
“Concerns about ‘panicking’ the public must not become an excuse for withholding information,” the call for investigation says. “In many cases, the fact that the information is alarming is precisely why it must be disclosed.
The ELC filed a request this week asking BC’s Information and Privacy Commissioner to investigate whether public bodies are following the laws that require government to release information about risks to the environment and public health and safety. Prepared on behalf of the BC Freedom Information and Privacy Association (FIPA), the submission highlights six cases where public bodies apparently failed to disclose information about risks, contrary to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
OLIVER DAM COLLAPSE: The Ministry of Environment failed to warn residents that the Oliver dam was in dangerously poor condition, despite knowing this was the case for more than 30 years. The dam collapsed before this information was made public.
For example, the researchers found that despite numerous reports that a dam near Oliver in the Okanagan Valley was in danger of collapse, provincial authorities made no apparent effort to warn residents “despite knowing of the threat for decades.”
When the dam did collapse on June 13, 2010, it triggered a huge mudslide that destroyed houses, farmland and farm equipment, the submission says. “If the dam had collapsed at night when residents were asleep, some would likely have died,” it says the RCMP reported.
From files – Vancouver Sun and UVic Environmental Law Centre