Common Sense Canadian

Mount Polley whistleblower lost job, then home

PostedSeptember 8, 2014 by in BC

Larry Chambers warned Imperial Metals that its tailings pond was bound to fail – and he was fired for it, the Likely, BC resident told media in Vancouver earlier today.

He and his wife, Lawna Bourassa-Keuster, have now lost their home on once-beautiful Quensnel Lake – too afraid to drink the cloudy and discoloured water, which they brought with them to Vancouver in a jar.

Quesnel Lake-cloudy water

Cloudy water from Quesnel Lake (Damien Gillis)

“Christy Clark did come to Likely and at that time, she informed us that she would make sure that Quesnel Lake would be brought back to its pristine state,” said Bourassa-Keuster. “We haven’t seen or heard from her since.”

“We, like most of the residents, live in Likely for its beauty and peacefulness. This is heartbreaking to see.”

The couple didn’t pull any punches when discussing the company’s attitude toward safety during a press conference hosted by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and featuring a Secwepemc First Nation representative as well. After complaining in writing to the Ministry of Energy and Mines about safety conditions at the mine, Chambers says he received a phone call “saying my services were no longer needed there.”

Chambers described instances of being bullied by supervisors at the mine for insisting on safety standards that were not being properly implemented.

It was an ongoing concern about the size of tailing pond and half the employees there knew there was a problem. This just shows you, as soon as you say something, you’re out of there.

About the Author

Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.



    I was really confused, and this answered all my quntsioes.

    Cathy White

    It’s so good to see someone do the right thing irregardless of the circumstances, if not for people like yourself, Larry, the world would be far worse than it already is! We need to stand up to these corporate rapers! It’s such a heart wrenching disaster! Many blessings to you all on the west coast!

    lawna Bourassa

    I would like to thank everyone on here that understands what we are going through and why we are doing what feel we have to do along with others in the community as well as the Indigenous people and 63 % of British Columbians that could be affected by this. Likely BC is a beautiful place to visit, and it would be nice if people still did so. There is so much to see here and do. We always called it our Avatar.


    Yes Darryl that is true


    Your the ones that have to life with yourself! Knowing the truth and I phoned once because of what you been saying fine if you can’t tell me the truth.iam happy things are getting cleaned up I just came from the likely meeting and was very pleased on the clean up going on and all of the testing that has been going on. I only wish some of the people here on this page could of been here to hear with your own ears what was said. I want to be positive in this town we all been through a lot and don’t need anyone stirring the pot we need each other I believe and sorry Larry and lawna if we’re not thinking the same Iam entitled to my own opinion as well as you and everyone else butI can’ t live in the past of what happened and need to be positive and move on with the people of likely and fix the problem and by not being a part of it with all The negativity

      lawna Bourasa

      You are right there is a lot of negativity Deanna, to bad you can not see the positive that we see. Or the people we help. I am glad you finally attended a meeting, did you ask a lot of questions? Like why Hazeltine Creek is not being cleaned? I did, I asked Steve Robertson and the Ministry of Environment. The answers are different. That is not a good feeling. Did you ask why the water has changed color? What this means to the bottom of the lake and the fish? Did you ask what the outcome of all this can mean to our future? These things are important for long term. It did not get magically get better overnight. You stated in one of your little rants we are liars (what did we lie about), friends are there for each other when in the time of need. I tried to call you weeks ago and Larry even came over, you did not answer. Now we are hearing rumours and I try not to believe them, but when they come from more than one person and all say you are the one spreading them, we have to decide at that point is it worth the stress. When all this is going on is takes priority in our lives. Our family and friends needed us, sorry. You should attend the meeting on the 18th at 6:00pm with Ramsey Hart. MINING WATCH CANADA and get some answers. I am actually glad you do not own here because you can choose to move at anytime. I envy you that. We are stuck here until we can find a way to move. I have actually become very sick from this and have been told to move away. To bad I can’t.

        lawna Bourassa

        Please also remember your husband knew about the tailings impoundment prior also and talked about it and was disturbed by what was happening as well as a lot of other people. We have not once mentioned his name for the sake of him losing his job. We have no problem living with ourselves and what we do for our future and for others. At least we try that is the most important thing for everyone affected. I will not be responding to any more comments on here that are negative and against what we do. I can stand up and fight for what I feel is right at anytime and know that sitting doing nothing does not make it better or go away it just allows it to continue.

    Ted Haas

    Larry and Lawna, sorry to hear of your loss of employment and the the challenge presented to your home by the pollution of the lake by which it stands. Really. Much could be said about that and government / business connections – you know the rhetoric.
    Please believe that I respect you and believe you are clearly worthy to be called ‘Canadian Citizen’.
    Stand strong. I think there is a movement starting among the People of Canada to stand against such crap. Have you considered politics?

    Thank you for your model – Ted.


    Does any one know that polley lake was in the process of a natural green algae bloom at the time of the tailings breach which had nothing to do with the mine but was washed into quenel lake.
    also the majority of the timber washed down was logged and stacked and not standing forest, and free range cattle drink out of polleys tailings for years ending up in our stores, and also many other mines in history existed in the area and likely is built on a tailing dam and it also breached.

      lawna Bourassa

      Could you please confirm all this? It would be interesting as to where you got this information. Not one thing you mentioned if fact. You are the first to speak of this please disclose your sources so that it is available to the public if true.


    This is definitely a disaster,there is no dispute there.But what evidence is there that he did contact the company or even evidence that he was fired for these allegations he made?? I see you comment to others to prove that he was fired for other reasons yet you don’t do the same ??

      Damien Gillis

      Thank you for perfectly illustrating why so few whistleblowers come forward, Tanya. Not only do they often lose their jobs – they have to deal with aspersions against their credibility and character from all corners.

      What’s the issue here? The man complained, he lost his job…Even if you don’t buy the connection – even if you question whether he filed these complaints, what is not in dispute is that the dam was indeed faulty and it did indeed fail – and the region has been beset by the worst mining disaster in history…anywhere in the world.

      Those facts are not in dispute.

        Lynne Wheeler

        Thank you for the wonderful work you do, Damien. I agree with you about whistle blowers. It takes a lot of guts to speak up, and an alternate source of income. Mt Polley is a terrible disaster, and this horrible company has their sights set on Catface Mountain near Tofino. It’s time to change the Mines Act and protect our precious water.

    Mt. Polley Employee

    you need to check your facts, I worked with the guy. he was a lube truck driver, had troubles getting along with management, no previous mine experience. not a tailings dam engineer. this is disgraceful reporting, unfactual, and only speculation. I would hope imperial talks to their lawyer about this!!!

      Damien Gillis

      Anonymous Mt. Polley Employee: Mr. Chambers is very clearly labelled as a lube truck driver – both in his own words and in his title within the video. That is precisely how he has represented himself to the media.

      Moreover, the fact that he had trouble getting along with management is the whole point! He described at length his interactions with other employees and how troubled they were, particularly when he raised safety issues…

      So what exactly are you saying? How is the story “unfactual”?!


        Lube truck drivers do not know anything except how to add oil and fuel. Nothing to do with operations or engineering.
        Check back ground, was dismissed long before breach. I know all the Lube truck drivers in past 2+ years and never met this guy.
        Imperial needs to prosecute con artists like the Larry and Lawna team for the fraudulent slander.

          Damien Gillis

          Again…No one said he was an engineering expert.

          If you actually watched the very short video, you’d note Mr. Chambers explaining that as a lube truck operator, he got the chance to speak with lots of other employees on site – many of whom he contends knew of problems with the tailings dam. He paints a picture of a risk-prone corporate culture which did not tolerate any holdups for safety concerns.

          And of course, he was right – we now see the results with the largest tailings dam disaster in history…anywhere in the world:

          These are indeed very serious allegations – so serious and disturbing that I’m sure Imperial will take appropriate action if Mr. Chambers’ statements in fact constitue slander. Funny thing is, they show no sign of doing that or even publicly contradicting these statements…

          On the contrary, the stream of comments on this story attacking Mr. Chambers’credibility is disappointingly predictable. These are the kinds of ad hominem attacks that discourage people like Mr. Chambers from stepping forward with issues of public and environmental health…Let us not forget here for a moment that it is Imperial Metals and the provincial government that utterly lack credibility in this situation, after a pattern of extreme misinformation that began the very day of the spill and continues even now:

          You’re asking an awful lot here of people to approach Mr. Chambers with skepticism, while implicitly trusting the company that fired him then set about destroying Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake – a company which carried ZERO environmental disaster insurance for the mine and has yet to engage in any meaningful cleanup of this disaster of their own making.

          I suggest you’re pointing your finger in the wrong direction.

          Larry Chambers

          So if you never met me says nothing, what shift are you on? Like to hear your answer if you are legit. Why is it with everyone that has something negative to say does not give their name. I have friends that still work up their. Maybe you are not really a mechanic and maybe you do not work up there. Maybe you are a con. Please Imperial prosecute us. Guess who would win? Not imperial that is why they are not doing anything. Oh yah because they are neglectful.

          Larry Chambers

          You must be one of the mechanic I had the pleasure of never meeting because you were hiding and sleeping.


      I agree ,he isn’t exactly an expert ?? Complete speculation and just reporting for ratings

      Larry Chambers

      Thank you Mt. Polley Employee, why do you not give your name. Is it because you lie or are scared that you may lose your job. Guess what I scored 98% on my evaluation for your info. For those that questions what am saying guess what…I have a paper trail of everything to prove, those that need to see it will. You are not one of them. I hope imperial does talk to their lawyer also, but I bet they won’t. No speculation that management was backwards and guess what I had beers with my supervisor all the time. If you want to be credible than you would not hide behind the Mt. Polley Employee name.


    My parents have a place at Quesnel Lake and were just saying after being there this weekend how impressed they are with the clean up. They said it’s like you’d never know it even happened!

      Damien Gillis

      Wow – very different story than the First Nations and public from the region reported yesterday, not to mention the troubling visual images that keep emerging fromt he region:

      Did your parents visit Hazeltine Creek or Polley Lake while they were there?


        not safe to clean up everything until the dam is contained from further slides by the dike which is almost complete and then an environmental assessment must be done to determine the best way to clean/heal nature so more damage is not done in the process.
        Want oil in quesnel lake from oil leaking equipment break downs?


    I would like to know if Larry ever contacted the #media about his ignored warnings about the danger of the dam failure. I can’t understand why so many warnings were issued and ignored! Are the 100s of other toxic mine tailings ponds in BC *all being ‘monitored’ & licensed in the same shoddy way?

      Damien Gillis

      He did not indicate that he reported his concerns to media at the time – only to the company and the ministry.

    Jude De Yoe

    whistle blowers unite

    Sylvia Palm

    As Larry left the Dec. 2013 meeting at the community hall in Likely, he said, ” Well I might not have a job in the morning.” Sure enough, he was right. He had raised concerns regarding the dams’ multiple breeches.

    We had gathered to listen to the young environmental engineer and assistant from mount Polley, describe for us the problem of too much water run off and the proposed solution. The solution was to treat the ground water, not tailings pond water, and put it directly into Polley Lake, aqua safe, as there was a pipe already installed there.

    When asked if I had anything to say, my comment was that it was not a good cross section of informed lake people to call a meeting in December, two weeks before Christmas. The environmental ministry representative said, “…it didn’t stop them coming when we first proposed draining in Hazeltine!” Obviously the eighty five people showing up in a blizzard seven or so years ago, had no impact. WHY would people show up? There was no question, we as a community had little clout!

    I am currently displaced from my dwelling on Quesnel Lake and after visiting for two hours yesterday, my sinus and eye membranes are inflamed, radiating heat down into my solar plexus. I am told there is NO problem…by the environment ministry and Interior Health. Blood and urine tests are pending. I have heard there have been no reported problems associated with this disaster.

    How do I clean my home? Is there anybody out there?

    Sincerely asking for assistance, Syl Palm

      Larry Chambers

      Syl, I am so sorry. My wife Lawna has been trying to find a way of contacting you. She is on facebook under Lawna Kuester. Please get in touch, anything we can do to help we will.


    Iam not judging them Damien I know them the we’re close friends and we had many talks but seams some of the viewers on this page is judging me and don’t know me iam like just in awe here and loss of words ia a first responder out here and rember the morning I got the call about the mine at 2 in the morning my heart jumped in my throat and spent the white day and night warning people I just want it cleaned up at this point

      Damien Gillis

      OK, fair enough, Dee. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m very sorry for what happened to your community and any potential health impacts to you and your family.


    I don’t work at the mine and we were very close friends with them and I live on the lake and get my water their my husband does work their and had a Horrifying accident their when his driving flipped over he almost died and broke his pelvis lost use of his shoulder crushed his left side and was out of work for 3annd a half years and his heart stopped on the operation table my son and I have been through hell and back but the mine helped us out soo much and payed for my hotel yes iam unhappy about the dam what all happened so please don’t be hating on me I respect their right to talk I just saying they don’t live on the lake like me and don’t get their water from their it’s from another source and they can drink it but I can’t sorry if I got mad in the beginning it’s just been so hard living out here and dealing with everybody’s emotions that’s going around

      Larry Chambers

      True enough dee but someone has to speak up for others if they can’t. We have other friends that get their water from the lake. We also invited anyone to come and get water or shower from us. Weather we live on the lake or right beside does not make a difference. We have being going not stop helping those in need and being there for support. I can’t it back and not do something, it is not in our nature. We love life and those that appreciate what mother nature has given us as a gift to respect.

      Karen Wilson

      Good for you Larry, Fly with the Eagles and let those chickens stay in the sludge. As far as some of the negative your getting, know that maybe if you don’t own a home there, why worry about it. I for one don’t own a home there but I am not blinded by the fact that this will continue until the earth is totally polluted. Where next, oh maybe the tailings pond in Ft Mac, Alberta by the Oil industry and on it goes. God should have given some a functioning brain before they were allowed access to a keyboard.

    Shelley Little

    So the severance pay should be enough then for the man’s retirement, and a bonus for warning us that BC’s natural resources are once again being destroyed by greed?!

    If not … these lying politicians should not get any pensions for any time spent lying to the public they are robbing, wouldn’t all BC residents agree?


    Will ” After complaining in writing to the Ministry of Energy and Mines about safety conditions at the mine” be brought to the tribunal’s attention?


    After complaining in writing to the Ministry of Energy and Mines about safety conditions at the mine, Chambers says he received a phone call “saying my services were no longer needed there.”

    When reading this statement it is compelling evidence that the ministry is in bed with the mining company.

    There is little doubt. There needs to be a class action suit brought by British Columbians. against both the present government and the mining company

    Robert shintah

    I read all your comments and all but one! We’re great and to the point. Dee sorry for your comment you my be someone that may be part of the problem at mount Polley known this was going to happen and didn’t say anything. There are a few more people that feel that way. But there are a lot more people Larry chambers that aw doing the right thing by speaking up and are going to be the ones deemed the bad guy. And people that sit back and tuddle their thumbs and side with the people that are resposible for this disaster hope you sleep well known you are the problem. Yes I agree with the others the governments have to go! Have a great day people that are on the push for answers. As for those of you that feel as Dee does have a good day as well maybe you will see its easy to do the right thing and talk about the problem and just maybe you may have saved or stopped this disaster from happening. The people that own this company don’t care about you it’s the money they make they don’t have to stay there! Where are they living?

      Larry Chambers

      Thank you Robert, that is exactly how I felt. I had to say something even if it meant not having an income. We have struggled since and that is ok, I would do it again if given the chance. The only thing I would do different would be to scream louder and maybe more people would of heard. So many employees had been aware and did not say anything from fear of losing their job and even still will not say anything.


      Robert how can u say that you don`t know me and don`t live here in Likely or what I`am doing , and thankyou I will sleep well and I`am not tuddle my thumb unlike you I am doing something besides setting on this web site judging me like you know me

    That's right

    You got it. Since the dawn of time & Erin Brochovich. People loose lips,sink ships. It’s up to each one of us, no matter the cost, plan the exposure, document, document, document, you can be effective but it had to be done correctly. Write letters, complain to the people that can do something about a complaint, insist on 3rd party monitors, join the safety committees, your right to do so, document, document, document. Squeeking now, after the fac,t is sour grapes, the time to get the Wheels set in motion is BEFORE sn event takes place. i once got fired for insisting a handrail be sanded and varnished to reduce large splinter Medical Aid first aid cases be reduced after 3 different employees received foreign bodies embedded into the palms if the employees hands who used a handrail going up or down stairs to the coffee room. The reason I hot fired is I dared say something to the plant manager, and I was a female. A siege was started by the Manager who took exception to this woman employee mentioning something unsafe & requesting something be done about it. Instead of fixing this minor problem, this company representative chose increased WCB premiums for hospital Medical aid visits & subsequent follow up visit over acting on a safety recommendation from a female employee. The Manager did not use that staircase and was therefore unaffected except by the female employee suggestion. I was terminated, services no longer needed and I was not a good fit for the company after a year if employment. That company recorded the death of a 31year old husband and father. I went on to alternate employment. Where again I was terminated for insisting on abdicate safe working conditions such as Supervision of young & new workers as well as welding screens when welding (Welding 101) in a manufacturing steel production plant (not needed as they take time to set up & take time & duh, don’t look at the flash) this company was responsible for 4 deaths, amputations & crush injuries, steel is unforgiving & I was terminated for insisting on basic safety regulation that are legislated in this country to protect workers from bring killed ‘ of maimed on the job. I don’t care how many times I am fired. I have everything documented & will continue to advocate safety in the job! Whistleblower s get fired b/c the government allows it, just like women & children get beaten,raped & killed by the men in their lives because the law allows it. Start getting serious about documenting incidents & writing to those that can do something about it


      Keep DOCUMENTING that’s the only way to get things addressed in this country even then they can lose the paper trail somehow. Great to hear others are willing to keep speaking up and DOCUMENTING the truths!


    Damien: thank you for keeping the facts before the public. This is a disaster and a travesty.


    Very revealing that the response to you was so disrespectful.

    Just keep yourselves in touch with good people trying to do the right thing, and I believe you will come through this stronger than ever.


    you wrote an lie by saying(he lost his job than home) he didn`t lose his home and yes he did loose his job but not because the dam concerns lies

      Damien Gillis

      Dee, Mr. Chambers and his wife no longer have access to safe drinking water – and fear this is a long-term problem. Ergo, they feel compelled to move from the home they planned to retire in, on the banks of what was once once of BC’s most beautiful lakes, home to some of the purest drinking water around…but no more.

      Both Mr. Chambers – in his own words, within the video – and the accompanying print story clearly explain this statement.

      They may still have a house, but their HOME is gone to them.

      And who are you to judge them? If a corporation and a negligent government destroyed the very qualities of your community that made you decide to move there – without any compensation or genuine attempt to correct the problem – would you not feel like your home had been taken from you?

      Moreover, if you have other evidence showing clearly that Mr. Chambers’ safety complaints had nothing to do with his dismissal, then please bring it forward.

      In that case, I suppose the timing would just have been an extraordinary coincidence 😉


        Damian, do you know if Larry notified media when his letters to Min of Energy & Mines resulted in his firing? Just curious; who else knew that dam would fail?


      Is your spelling and grammar really that bad?

      Larry Chambers

      I know who dee is and if her husband like others are saying on here would of spoke up as well this may have been prevented, but they were scared of losing their jobs. You know as well as I do Deanna that it is not lies and that I do have paper trails to prove. And am wondering when you phone us why we do not feel like speaking with you.


    Yes, you are absolutely a hero. I am sorry also that you lost your job but do not back down; you have started something and you have more friends and supporters than you could possibly realize.

    Marlene George

    The wrong guy lost his job, the Minister of the Environment; Mary Pollak, the Minister of Mines and Energy; Bill Bennett and Premier Clark should be the ones to lose their jobs over this hellish disaster. Not ONE of them clearly did their job, if they did this would not have happened. Of course they are not going to do a damn thing to fix this situation, they cannot turn back time because that is the only way to fix this. The environment and the lakes are forever changed! The operations of that mine has to be shut down immediately. We the public should be expecting a report on the mine tailings ponds from other mines in this province and those finding need to be made public immediately! Tragic and sad situation over the all mighty dollar, NO THANK YOU CHRISTY CLARK, THIS IS NOT THE KIND OF BUSINESS WE WANT IN BRITISH COLUMBIA.

      Don Gravelle

      Along with the people that you mention, why would one not throw in the Conservative Party of Canada? This disaster is not just B.C.’s, this is the whole country’s disaster and unless we act in partnership to get rid of the big Kahuna, we will have this happen all over the place and there is almost a certainty that the next disaster will make this look small.

    Don F.

    This makes me so angry. What the hell kind of people do we have in this provincial government that think all of this is just part of doing business! How far off are we from total collapse?
    These people are you and I. They trusted that someone would do the right thing. For shame on those responsible. Are we so desperate for the little these corporations give back to the people from our resources that a blind eye will be turned to their outrageous neglect.
    The circle is unending for what little they give is what causes the desperation to happen. But no-one in government provincial or federally has the sense or will to see that.
    It’s time for them to pay the piper now for years of rape and pillaging. This company should be shut down now and the minister of environment and mines and resources should absolutely receive they walking papers, corporate tax should be increased and the should be forced to make these people whole.
    These people sent letters to Bill Bennetts ministry as the should and for that mistake the have lost everything, Bill Bennet should lose as well as his mandate to the people is to insure their safety and in this situation, and I suspect many others he has failed miserably.
    Shame, shame, shame on all the BC Liberal fools,
    This is our future if we allow governments to sleep with corporates, you couldn’t find a better example of the future than this!


    You are a hero. I’m sorry you lost your job! The world needs many more people like you to stand up to these destroyers of our planet! Thank you for what you did!

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