Episode of Reality Television Show Leads to Environmental Prosecution
It’s not often that the worlds of reality television and environmental regulatory enforcement collide. However, recently, a Yukon-based company became subject to an environmental prosecution by committing an environmental offence in a reality television episode.
Tamarack, Inc. engages in placer mining in the Dawson district of Yukon territory. Anton Beets is one of its directors. Both Beets and Tamarack are participants in the Discovery Channel reality television program Gold Rush. Gold Rush depicts the mining of gold placer deposits performed by various teams of miners.
Following the airing of an episode in March 2015, Yukon’s office of the Chief Mining Inspector received a complaint that during the episode, Beets had allowed a contractor hired by Tamarack to pour gasoline approximately 1 to 1.5 gallons of into a dredge pond and lit it on fire.
Following an investigation, charges were laid against both Tamarack and Beets for contravening the Yukon Waters Act, SY 2003, c 19 (the “Act”) by permitting the deposit of waste into water in a water management area (s. 7(1)(a)) and failing to report the deposit (s. 7(3)(a)). Tamarack was also charged under s 38(3)(a) of the Act with failing to comply with the conditions of its water license.
Tamarack and Beets contested the charges (R v Beets, 2017 YKTC 17). While the defense did not adduce any evidence, the prosecution introduced footage from the aired episode.
The defenses relied upon included: that gasoline did not constitute “waste” under the Act; that the defendants had not allowed the gasoline to be deposited into the water because the contractor who actually committed the act was not an employee but a contractor for Tamarack; the charges related to failing to comply with the water license were vague; the defendants were duly diligent; the amount of gasoline poured into the dredge pond was so minimal that the de minimis maximum was applicable; and that the rule in R v Kienapple (being the rule against multiple convictions) prevented conviction on all of the charges.
The Court rejected each of these defenses and convicted the defendants on all of their respective charges.