Aviation company to go to trial in 2013 West Kootenay fuel spill

Case almost derailed due to court delays

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The aviation fuel company charged with fisheries and environmental offences connected to a 2013 spill of 30,000 litres of fuel in B.C.’s Slocan Valley will go to trial, a Supreme Court of B.C. judge ruled Dec. 13.

 

The case has been beset with delays, court challenges and multiple investigations that threatened to derail it. The latest ruling, however, found that the company’s right to a speedy trial had not been breached, and the court ordered the case to proceed.

 

The case stems from a July 2013 incident where a tanker truck overturned into Lemon Creek near Winlaw. It was operated by an employee of Executive Flight Centre Fuel Services Ltd. was transporting aviation fuel to a provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources helicopter forest-fire-fighting staging area.

As a result of the incident, an evacuation order and water-use restrictions were issued.

An initial B.C. Conservation Officer Service investigation produced no charges against the company but a citizen soon initiated a private prosecution and a trial was set for April 2016

The federal Crown intervened that January, however, staying the private prosecution until a re-opened investigation completed its work.

The company, the province and the vehicle driver were then charged in July 2016 by federal Crown with offences under the federal Fisheries Act and the provincial Environmental Management Act.

The company challenged the case, saying Crown evidence disclosure was slow, that its constitutional rights had been breached with the case taking so long to go to trial.

In October 2017, B.C. Supreme Court judge agreed and ordered a judicial stay of proceedings.

However, the government challenged the stay, prompting Justice Sheri Ann Donegan to agree investigations into the spill had continued during the stay, that the first judge had insufficient information to order the stay.

“The trial judge was in no position to assess whether the Crown should have laid charges sooner than it did,” Donegan said.

A class action suit against the company, the province, the driver of the fuel truck and the helicopter company also remains before the courts. The lawsuit seeks damages for negligence and damage to property.

The company could not be reached for comment.