Will the BC NDP step up & regulate ship breaking — one of the most hazardous industries in the world?

Apr 18, 2023 | 42-4, Blog, Environment, Governance, Indigenous, Legislature, Question Period, Video | 1 comment

Baynes Sound produces half of all BC shellfish. It is an important site for the K’omoks First Nation and is federally designated as a Biologically & Ecologically Sensitive Area. Despite this, the province has allowed ship breaking – one of the most hazardous industries in the world – to occur on its shores.

Ship breaking involves the demolition of seacraft. It is globally recognized as having the potential to pollute shorelines with harmful substances like asbestos, PCBs and heavy metals. If properly regulated, it is an important industry — but BC lacks clear laws.

Deep Water Recovery, the company operating in Baynes Sound, was found to be out of compliance 4 times under BC’s Environmental Management Act and Hazardous Waste Regulation. The company received three warnings and one advisory. Still the province refuses to issue fines or revoke their license.

Nearby residents & the K’omoks First Nation have raised serious concerns about risks to their safety, the health of their families, and the environment. Today the BC Green Caucus is calling on the government to regulate the shipbreaking industry.

Last spring, a group of several NGOs, including WWF Canada, sent an open letter urging the BC NDP to follow other global leaders and adopt ship breaking regulations. The Association of Vancouver Island & Coastal Communities (AVICC) also unanimously passed a motion calling for legislation. To date, nothing has happened.

Ship breaking in Baynes Sound is an environmental disaster waiting to happen. Today I asked if the BC NDP will step up and regulate an industry that is actively endangering the health and rights of First Nations, wildlife, and community members.

Minister George Heyman said the government is “working on it”. He assured us that he was aware of the issue and that inspections & meetings will continue. With 3 years of advocacy and no action, it seems very likely that environmental violations will also continue under the BC NDP.

This industry poses serious risk to workers, communities & marine environments. By refusing to act, the government is signaling to companies across the province that pollution is tolerable under its watch. The BC NDP must step up and regulate shipbreaking in BC.


A. Olsen:
Baynes Sound produces about half of British Columbia’s shellfish. It’s an important economic, food, social and ceremonial site for K’ómoks First Nation and has federal designation as an ecologically and biologically sensitive area. Despite the significance, the province has permitted shipbreaking, an environmentally hazardous industry, in Union Bay. In October 2021, the province issued a foreshore lease to Deep Water Recovery that allows them to drag ships over the beach and onto dry land. In 2022, Deep Water Recovery was found to be out of compliance four times under B.C.’s Environmental Management Act and hazardous waste regulations. The company received three warnings and one advisory.

However, the company has not faced regulatory penalties, nor did the province issue fines or revoke the original license. By not acting, the province is sanctioning this damage. My question is to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. Will he take enforcement actions against Deep Water Recovery to protect the environment and the people of Baynes Sound?

Hon. G. Heyman:
Thank you to the member for the question. As the member knows, compliance and enforcement actions are taken by staff of the Ministry of Environment on the ground in this instance, as well as staff of other ministries. I am very aware, as are my colleagues, of the concerns of the community around Baynes Sound shipbreaking activities. There are active investigations ongoing. When and if specific violations are determined, action will be taken.

A. Olsen:
I do understand where the regulatory and enforcement actions happen. I also understand that it’s the ministers that are government that are responsible for ensuring that companies and people are following the rules and the regulations. Ultimately, the responsibility lands on that side of the House. K’ómoks First Nation opposes the shipbreaking operation. The Comox Valley regional district has initiated a court action against Deep Water Recovery.

In June 2021, Transport Canada invited the province to participate in a technical review of internationally recognized shipbreaking regulations. In March 2022, a group of NGOs sent a joint letter urging this government to create regulation and follow the example from existing legal frameworks and legislation. In April 2022, the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities unanimously approved a motion calling on this government to adopt ship breaking regulations in B.C.

Despite these requests, the ministry has not taken any meaningful action to regulate this hazardous industry. If properly regulated, ship breaking is an important industry. Without adequate provincial oversight, however, this industry poses serious risks to workers, communities and our marine environments.

To the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, will the minister regulate this activity that is actively imperiling the health and the rights of First Nations?

Hon. G. Heyman:
Thank you, again, to the member for the question. I and my colleagues realize this is a critically important issue to people who live in the area. They have been communicating with us directly and often. We have been meeting regularly with staff in my ministry and staff in other ministries. This is a interjurisdictional issue, as the member knows. It involves my ministry and the Ministry of Forests. It also involves the federal government.

We’re working with other regulatory agencies, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada as well as WorkSafeBC with respect to the potential for asbestos exposures. We are working to determine that the environment and human health are protected, but the member also knows that there are procedures in place.

There are laws that specify what compliance looks like. There are matters of administrative fairness. We have visited the site — inspectors from my ministry — multiple times, taken water samples for independent analysis and issued warnings and one advisory to the company under the Environmental Management Act. Activities and inspections continue. I and my colleagues continue to request and receive regular briefings on this issue and we will continue to do that to resolve this issue for the people who live in the area.

1 Comment

  1. Lorna Murphy

    Minister Heyman

    What will it take for you and your staff to take action? Are you waiting for an environmental disaster? THE time for action is now, before there is an environmental disaster that wipes out marine life in Baynes Sound! You speak empty words.

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