Charges have been filed in Port Coquitlam Provincial Court in connection with the 2009 installation of a 45-centimetre-wide water intake pipe in the North Alouette River in north Pitt Meadows.
“There are a total of 11 charges that have been laid under the Water Act, the Fisheries Act and the Dike Maintenance Act,” said Neil MacKenzie, with the criminal justice branch of the Attorney General ministry.
The counts, considered regulatory offences rather than criminal matters, are filed against five individuals, two companies, as well as six numbered companies, by the Ministry of Environment’s conservation officer service.
Named in the charges are Elisa Aquilini, Francesco Aquilini, Paulo Aquilini, Roberto Aquilini and Richard Matis, as well as CPI – Cranberry Plantation, and Global Coin Corp.
All are named in eight charges under the Water Act. Those charges describe such actions as diverting water and altering a stream without authority, using water “when not lawfully entitled to do so,” and operating a pump without authority to do so.
Penalties under the act include a maximum $200,000 fine or six months jail. For a continuing offence, daily fines of not more than $200,000 can be applied.
Another count under the Dike Maintenance Act has the same group charged for altering a side channel of the North Alouette that was adjacent to the dike.
The charges describe actions that took place between May 17 and June 20, 2009.
The issue, along with a report about the same time of the death of thousands fish in the same area, has dragged on for almost two years.
Maple Ridge, followed by Pitt Meadows, wrote to Fisheries Minister Gail Shea in January, saying it is with “much dismay” that there was still no explanation about the fish kill and asked that if someone is responsible, “that there are sufficient consequences.”
Golden Eagle Group, which owns almost 5,000 acres of berry fields in Pitt Meadows, has said previously it installed the pipe without waiting for water licences, for which it had previously applied, to be issued and that its actions weren’t connected with the death of the fish.
Golden Eagle Group is part of Aquilini Investment Group, owned by Francesco Aquilini. Aquilini Investment Group also owns the Vancouver Canucks.
The Aquilinis named in the preceding charges also face two counts under the federal Fisheries Act – for installation of the pump and excavation of the east and west ends of a side channel in the North Alouette, which conservation officers say resulted in “harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.”
However, environmental activist Jack Emberly, who first reported the fish kill, wonders what took so long and still blames Fisheries and Oceans Canada for its slow response.
“Why in God’s name did it take so long to finally lay charges?
“Somebody has to look into DFO’s procedures for investigating under the Fisheries Act. They’re just not doing it in an effective manner.”
The charges were approved by the Attorney General’s department based on an investigation by the Ministry of Environment’s conservation officer service.
Asked why it took so long, MacKenzie said there was “ongoing discussion between the Crown and the conservation officer service.”
Either level of government can lay charges under the Fisheries Act. Because the main issue was the installation of the pipe under the Water Act, the provincial department handled the investigation.
Emberly, though, says the fisheries department took the initial complaints from people about activity along the river. He wants an inquiry into Fisheries’s response.
Six numbered companies are also named in six of the charges and are the same companies that applied in 2007 to the Water Stewardship Division of the Ministry of Environment for water withdrawal licences.
Geoff Clayton, with the Alouette River Management Society, wants a review of all the water licences issued to Aquilini companies on the north side of the North Alouette River, as well as a commitment by the company to sign on to a water-use plan that allocates water to all users and a wireless, real-time water-monitoring system available to all users and environmental groups.
“They’re a huge group. They have a public profile with the Canucks. It really behooves them to start acting like they have the public interest at heart, not just profits.”
First appearance in Port Coquitlam court is March 17.
Calls to the Aquilini office in Vancouver weren’t returned.