Three engineers to face disciplinary hearings in Mount Polley disaster


Jessica Vickerman

VANCOUVER — A professional association of engineers in British Columbia is alleging negligence or unprofessional conduct against three engineers after the 2014 collapse of a tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine.

Engineers and Geoscientists British Columbia says disciplinary hearings against Laura Fidel, Stephen Rice and Todd Martin will take place next year.

The association's investigation committee alleges that three individuals involved in the design, construction and monitoring of the tailings storage facility demonstrated negligence and or unprofessional conduct in the course of their professional activities.

The allegations have not been heard by a disciplinary panel and are unproven.

The disaster at the gold and copper mine was one of the largest in the province's history and sent 24 million cubic metres of mine waste and sludge into nearby waterways.

In an interview with, Toronto litigator Jessica Vickerman says the case illustrates why professionals shouldn't take on responsibilities beyond their qualifications.

“The allegations serve as a reminder to all professions of the danger in accepting responsibilities for which you are unqualified and conversely, delegating duties to those whom you know are unqualified,” says Vickerman, an associate with the Toronto office of Shibley Righton LLP.

“The allegations of negligence or unprofessional conduct against the three engineers are extensive and run the gamut from claims of poor design and improperly sealing drawings to inadequate monitoring and lack of qualified review,” she says.

Vickerman, who isn’t involved in the case and comments generally, says the association’s authority to initiate the investigation is outlined in s. 30 of the Engineers and Geoscientists Act, although the process usually follows a complaint.

“The association has the ability to enforce various sanctions should the allegations against the engineers be proven, including reprimanding them, imposing conditions on and/or restricting their practice, suspending or revoking their professional membership and licence, and imposing a fine of up to $25,000,” she explains.

A three-year deadline for provincial charges in the case passed last year amid an ongoing investigation by B.C.'s Conservation Officer Service.