Agnico Eagle fined $50K for spill at Meadowbank mine

Agnico Eagle Mines Limited has been fined $50,000 under the federal Fisheries Act for failing to report a spill at its Meadowbank site near Baker Lake, Nunavut.

The fine stems from a spill discovered by an Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAC) site inspector in July 2013.

According to an agreed statement of facts read in court on Monday in Iqaluit, the inspector noticed red-coloured water and sediment in a lake that contained trout.

The inspector also observed the same red-coloured water in an adjacent waste rock storage sump, which had seeped through a gravel road and into the lake.

When spills happen, companies are obligated to report it to either an environment officer, or to call the Nunavut and N.W.T. spills line.

Agnico Eagle also has its own policy to report spills to the 24-hour hotline, but the company didn't, figuring it was enough that the INAC inspector was aware of it.

"There was a serious and imminent danger of the substance in [the sampling station] to seep and enter [the lake], known to be fish-bearing, and that such a detriment to fish or fish habitat is reasonably expected," Crown prosecutor Sarah Bailey concluded, though Agnico Eagle disagreed with that particular finding.

"We acknowledge that Agnico believed they were compliant, however the concern of the Crown is Agnico Eagle's own policy required the spill line be called, and that didn't happen," Bailey said.

Cyanide, ammonia found in lake

According to the inspector's report, but not read as part of the agreed statement of facts, lab results from water samples taken from the lake showed elevated levels of metal, including copper and nickel.

Another sample taken from the lake a month later tested positive for cyanide and ammonia.

The report noted "numerous metals in [the lake] are at concentrations which are associated with chronic acute toxicity," though there was no determination if any fish died as a result.

Agnico Eagle has since updated its spill planning protocols to ensure all spills be reported, the court heard.

The $50,000 fine was a joint submission by both Crown and defense after a year of negotiations.