A placer mining reality TV star and mining company have been found guilty of offences under the Yukon Waters Act.
Anton “Tony” Beets was found guilty in territorial court this morning of permitting the deposit of waste into a water management system and not reporting it. He appeared by phone in the Whitehorse court.
Mining company Tamarack Inc. was found guilty of the same two charges plus two charges for the breach of a water licence.
Beets is one of the stars of Discovery Channel reality TV series Gold Rush and a director of Tamarack.
The case stems from an incident in October 2014, aired on season five of the show. Gasoline is poured into a dredge pond and lit on fire at a mining site near the Indian River in the Dawson City area.
In a clip from the episode “Hundreds of Ounces” played several times in court, the narrator describes the event as a “Viking baptism” intended to give luck to the dredge.
While the ensuing fiery blaze may have made for good TV, the episode is what prompted a complaint to the Yukon’s chief mining inspector in March 2015.
During trial, Crown prosecutor Megan Seiling argued that Beets should be held personally liable for permitting the spill. As licencees, Tamarack had a duty of care to prevent contraventions of the water licence, Seiling added.
Four Crown witnesses testified about the incident: two mining inspectors; Mark Favron, the contract welder who poured the gasoline; and Brendan Mulligan, the senior water quality scientist for the Yukon government.
Favron testified that when he asked Beets about his idea to pour the gasoline into the pond and light it on fire, Beets responded that he “didn’t give a f----.”
Favron said he poured about one to 1.5 gallons of gasoline from a jerry can.
Mulligan testified as an expert witness about the chemical composition of hydrocarbons and how they act in water.
Defence attorney Andre Roothman argued that the gasoline used in this case did not meet the definition of waste under the Waters Act as “any substance that, if added to water, would degrade or alter, or form part of a process of degradation or alteration of, the quality of the water to an extent that is detrimental to its use by people or by any animal, fish or plant.”
Due to the small amount of gasoline used and the fact that it was mostly burned off, Roothman argued, it had little effect on water quality.
Justice Peter Chisholm, however, found that it did fit the definition of forming “part of a process of degradation or alteration” based on scientific evidence and Mulligan’s expert testimony.
Roothman also argued that Tamarack should not be held liable as they were not involved in the TV series and the incident was unrelated to their mining activities.
But Chisholm noted that Beets is a director of the company, and, according to Favron’s testimony, was the face of Tamarack at the mining site.
Chisholm found that Beets’s decision to permit the deposit of waste and not report it was equally the decision of Tamarack.
It would be “disingenuous” he added, to say that Favron was not employed by Tamarack at the time of the incident, despite the fact that he was paid through Beets’ personal bank account.
Roothman further argued during trial that charges against Tamarack over breach of the water licence should be dismissed due to vagueness as they don’t specify which section of the licence was breached.
Chisholm disagreed, and found that the licence was clear about requirements over the deposit of waste.
He noted that according to Favron’s testimony, the company had not established a training program for employees or contractors on handling waste or managing spills.
Finally, Roothman argued that in Tamarack’s case, the Kineapple principle should apply, or the rule against multiple convictions for the same thing. He noted that two of the charges address permitting the deposit of waste, and the other two address failure to report.
Chisholm, however, found that the principle does not apply as the water licence is a distinct difference in two of the charges.
Beets and Tamarack have yet to be sentenced for the convictions. Counsel are expected to appear in court again on May 26.
Beets and Tamarack could face a maximum penalty of a $15,000 fine, six months in jail, or both, for each of the first two charges.
And the latter two offences that Tamarack was convicted of carry a maximum penalty each of a $100,000 fine, one year in jail, or both.
Favron previously pleaded guilty to two charges under the Waters Act for his involvement in the incident and paid a fine of $1,725.