The Canadian subsidiary of the steel giant has been found guilty on more than 90 counts related to incidents that took place between 2011 and 2013
JULIEN ARSENAULT, LA PRESSE (Original article in French here.)
Harmful spills, "false or misleading" declarations, incomplete reports and omission of tests: ArcelorMittal committed a series of environmental violations a decade ago at the Mont-Wright mining complex on the North Shore, a Quebec court ruled.
The Canadian subsidiary of the Luxembourg-based steel giant was found guilty on more than 90 counts under the Fisheries Act and the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations, Judge Julie Riendeau concluded in her October ruling. This represents more than 90% of the charges laid against the company.
The alleged violations took place from 2011 to 2013 and are grouped into six categories of offences.
It is not yet known what fines or consequences the multinational – who has appealed the decision – will face. The case is due back in court on Monday. Sentencing is expected to take place in 2022.
Among other things, ArcelorMittal was found guilty of being responsible for discharging a "harmful substance" into Webb Lake, south of the complex, "in waters where fish live." The concentration of mine effluent - tailings that may contain toxic substances - exceeded the regulatory limit.
"All agree that the materials are toxic for the purposes at hand," wrote Judge Riendeau in her 74-page ruling, which notes that a warning was issued in November 2010.
The Mount Write mine has reserves for another three decades, according to ArcelorMittal
In 2014, U.S.-based Cliffs Natural Resources – operator of the Bloom Lake mine at the time – was fined $7.5 million in Quebec for having committed around 100 violations of the Fisheries Act. Last March, Teck Coal was fined $60 million – the largest penalty of its kind – for spills into two rivers in British Columbia.
The Mount Wright mine, which began operations in 1974, is the largest open-pit iron ore deposit in Canada. It has reserves for another three decades, according to ArcelorMittal.
Case by case
It is company employees who take the samples to measure the concentration of mining effluents. The samples are then analyzed internally and in an external laboratory, after which the results are forwarded to the appropriate federal authorities.
Transport trucks at the Mont-Wright mine
According to the Crown, ArcelorMittal was cherry-picking the results sent to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), a practice that "misrepresents" the reports. The company said it did so after being misled by a departmental inspector "as to what results should be submitted.”
"ECCC can only have an inaccurate, distorted picture of the situation," observed Judge Riendeau, referring to ArcelorMittal's methods for sharing results with ECCC.
The decision by the Quebec court notes that one witness testified during the trial that he was no longer “comfortable” with “continuing the practice” of reporting only the results that met the standards, when more than one sample was taken in the same week.
The defense countered, saying that some of the tests were voluntary environmental audits, which did not have to be submitted.
“The defendants' argument is disconcerting," wrote Judge Riendeau. “To accept [their argument[ would mean accepting that the samples and test results reported to the ECCC are valid, while the others are not, simply because they were carried out under the control of voluntary environmental audits.”
Far from over
ArcelorMittal would not comment on the content of the ruling, since they are in the process of appeal, said company spokesperson Annie Paré.
Last Tuesday, the company published a "corporate manifesto" in which it emphasized the need to "recognize" and "respect" the territory in which it operates.
"This ruling relates to events that occurred between 2011 and 2013," wrote Paré. “Please know that environmental protection and sustainable development are core values within our organization."
Ugo Lapointe, coordinator of the Quebec “Meilleure Mine” Coalition believes that the "substantial" and "very negative" ruling against ArcelorMittal is a blow to its image at a time when the multinational is trying to present itself as “the greenest steel company in the world."
PHOTO TAKEN FROM LINKEDIN PROFILE OF UGO LAPOINTE
Ugo Lapointe, coordinator of the Quebec "Meilleure Mine" Coalition
If it wants to act responsibly, the company should stop wasting time and taxpayers’ money by contesting the infractions it has been accused of by the Ministry of the Environment – infractions which are clearly recognized by the court.” – Ugo Lapointe, Coordinator of the Quebec “Meilleure Mine" Coalition
As part of this legal case, a numbered company was also found guilty on five counts. The primary shareholder of this company is EQP Cooperatief, based in the Netherlands. The company partnered with ArcelorMittal in February 2013. According to the court ruling, EQP owned 15% of the Canadian subsidiary of the multinational, along with other investors.
The legal process began in 2017. The trial was conducted on an ad hoc basis for seven months in 2020 and ended last February 19.
With files from André Dubuc, La Presse.