Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hartley Bay heads for court

With a deadline looming, the community of Hartley Bay has decided that they need to seek legal assistance to help them make their case with BC Ferries, over concerns about damage done to their living environment by the sinking of the Queen of The North in March of 2006.

The community which rushed to the aid of the sinking vessel and ferried passengers and crew ashore on that fateful night, has long since been trying to bring attention to the state of their fishery habitat, which they claim and will attempt to prove in court has been adversely impacted by the vessels sinking.

A shellfish fishery is of their main concern, but they also are wondering if other fisheries and aquatic life are at risk from the wreck of the vessel and any fuel and chemicals that may have leeched out of it over the last two years.

The community had to make a decision quickly this month, as there is a two-year time limitation for the filing of civil lawsuits in B.C., the deadline for which would be arriving on Saturday.

There are a number of lawsuits currently working their way through the legal system, including a class action suit on behalf of the surviving passengers and a wrongful death suit filed on behalf of the family of the two victims of the sinking.

The Vancouver Province published some of the background on their case in their Wednesday edition and posted the story to their online website.

Hartley Bay Indian Band sues over Queen of the North pollution
By Keith Fraser
The Province
Wednesday, March 19, 2008

VANCOUVER -- The Hartley Bay Indian Band, whose members rushed to the rescue of passengers of the Queen of the North, is now suing B.C. Ferries for damage arising from the impact of pollution from the sunken vessel.

The vessel was passing through Wright Sound, within the band's traditional territory, when it struck Gil Island and sank to the bottom, releasing diesel fuel and other contaminants and pollutants, says the lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver.

Members of the band were among the first responders to the tragedy, which claimed the lives of two people, but the band is now concerned that the pollutants have and will continue to cause damage to its fish harvesting sites.

"They feel in a lot of ways they've been shut out due to the impacts of this thing and the long term impacts on their area," said the band's lawyer Matthew Kirchner.

"It's sort of ironic given the role they played in assisting B.C. Ferries early on."

Kirchner said the lawsuit was filed in order to make it within a two-year time limitation for the filing of civil lawsuits in B.C. The sinking occurred in March 2006.

Kirchner said there will be more details added to the statement of claim in the coming weeks but added the main concern is with the fisheries habitat.

"Largely the issue is with shellfish but I wouldn't limit it to that. Fish and shellfish and aquatic plants. It would cover all affected fisheries."

Of particular concern is that B.C. Ferries has allowed the wreckage to remain on the ocean floor in Wright Sound and whether all of the diesel fuel is out of the vessel.

"From my client's perspective it's a continuing threat," said Kirchner.

The band is seeking unspecified general and special damages and damages for nuisance or trespass.

There are already several lawsuits pending in relation to the Queen of the North sinking, including a class action suit filed by the surviving passengers and wrongful death suits filed by the victims' families.

Deborah Marshall, a spokeswoman for B.C. Ferries, said there would be no comment on the Hartley Bay suit since the matter is before the courts.

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