Final arguments were made Wednesday afternoon in Whitehorse in the case of a mining reality TV star.
Both Crown prosecutor Megan Seiling and defence attorney Andre Roothman concluded their arguments in Yukon territorial court in the case of Anton “Tony” Beets and Tamarack Inc.
Beets, one of the stars of the Discovery Channel reality series Gold Rush, and the mining company are fighting charges under the Yukon Waters Act.
The case stems from an incident in October 2014, captured in season five of the reality series, where gasoline is poured into a dredge pond and lit on fire near the Indian River in Dawson City.
In the episode “Hundreds of Ounces”, as the camera pans across the pond at sunset, the narrator describes the event in dramatic fashion as a “Viking baptism” intended to give luck to the dredge which had sprung a leak.
In court yesterday afternoon, Seiling argued that Beets should be held personally liable for allowing the deposit of gasoline into the pond. And that as holder of the water use licence, Tamarack should be held liable for breach of that licence.
Tuesday, Mark Favron, a contract welder employed by Beets at the time of the incident, testified that on a whim, he came up with the idea for the fire and was responsible for pouring the gasoline.
He said Beets told him he “didn’t give a f---” when asked if it would be OK to do so.
Seiling argued that not only did Beets permit Favron to pour the gasoline but that he “turned it into a bit of a spectacle for the show.”
In a short clip from the episode played several times in court, Beets makes a striking figure outlined by the flames as dramatic music swells.
“I told you guys, ‘come hell or high water,’ didn’t I?” he says.
“How do you like that!”
Along with Beets being liable, Seiling argued that as licencees, Tamarack had a duty of care to prevent contraventions of the water use licence.
She referenced the fact that Favron testified that he never received on-site training on handling fuel, spills, or environment management.
On the defence side, Roothman referred to the case as a “tempest in a teacup,” and said the only reason Beets is in court is because he is a reality TV star.
“This is a typical case where a high-profile person gets drawn to the gallows simply because of his prominence,” he said.
And both charges against Beets should be dropped, he argued.
He also made reference to a case in Whitehorse, reported by several media sources including the Star, where a Porter Creek property owner expressed concerns that the city had not properly addressed leaking oil and potentially contaminated soil on his neighbour’s property.
Roothman said he feels Beets case is being treated differently, and questioned why.
“What the hell is wrong up here?” he asked.
“Is there no standard that applies to everybody?”
In the Porter Creek case, the property owner has received fines under city bylaw for the accumulation of items on the property.
Environment Yukon recently took a soil sample and are waiting on results to determine how to proceed.
Roothman also argued that the charges against Tamarack are vague and should be struck, that the company was not involved in the TV series, and that the incident was unrelated to their mining activities.
He also noted that the amount of gasoline used in this case was minimal and mostly burned off so that it would have no effect on the degradation of the water quality.
According to Favron, he poured about one to 1 1/2 gallons of gasoline.
And expert Crown witness Brendan Mulligan, senior water quality scientist with the Yukon government, conceded that the amount of gasoline, even before it was burned off, would have had little impact on water quality or aquatic life once it flowed into the Indian River.
But Seiling argued that the amount of gasoline is irrelevant to a breach of the water licence or offence under the Waters Act and merely plays a role in sentencing.
She said that it is “effectively common sense” that gasoline is a toxic substance and that even fractional amounts will add up over time to water degradation that is harmful to plants, animals, and humans.
Not convicting in this case, she argued, would effectively license people to deposit waste in water and set it on fire, which would have “predictably disastrous consequences”
“It is a behaviour that has to be addressed by prosecution, it was not just a drip of oil from an oil tank,” she said, noting the incident was intentional, not accidental.
She added, “The licence to mine in the Yukon is a privilege.”
She also stressed that if the industry is not properly regulated, there is a great potential for damage to land and water.
Now it is up to territorial court to decide whether Beets and Tamarack should be held liable for the incident.
Beets is facing two charges for permitting the deposit of waste in a water management system and failing to report it to an inspector.
If convicted, he could face a maximum fine of up to $100,000, imprisonment for up to one year, or both for each charge.
And Tamarack is facing the same charges plus two additional charges for failure to comply with a water use licence. Those latter offences could result in a fine of up to $15,000 each.
Favron previously pleaded guilty to two charges under the Waters Act and paid a fine of $1,725.
Seiling said there should be a conviction on all counts.
Roothman argued that if Tamarack is convicted, it should only be for two of the charges.
Otherwise, he said, they would be convicted twice for the same thing, as counts one and three both address permitting the deposit of waste, and counts two and four address the failure to report the incident.
Yukon Justice Peter Chisholm was expected to make a decision in the case this afternoon.