Fiery 'Viking baptism' nets environmental charges for reality TV star

Published on April 18, 2017

WHITEHORSE — A reality TV star is on trial in Yukon, accused of violating the territory's Waters Act while filming a show about gold mining.

Tony Beets is charged with two counts of depositing waste in a water management area and failing to report it to an inspector.

Tamarack Inc., a mining company where Beets is a director, faces the same charges, plus two counts of failing to comply with a licence.

The charges stem from an episode of Discovery Channel's "Gold Rush" that originally aired in February 2015.

A clip from the episode was played in a Whitehorse courtroom on Tuesday, showing gasoline being poured into a pond in Dawson City where a piece of mining equipment sits. A torch is then thrown and the water lights on fire. 

Robert Savard, Yukon’s chief mining inspector, testified that his office received a complaint in March 2015 from Environment Canada enforcement officers in Yellowknife regarding the incident caught on film.

He said the territorial Department of Energy, Mines and Resources subsequently began an investigation, which led to charges.

Mine inspector Tyson Bourgard explained how water flowed from reservoir ponds to settling ponds and eventually to the Indian River on the mining site.

He said the water licence prohibited gasoline from being deposited in the water and that licencees are required to report spills and follow spill contingency plans.

Defence lawyer Andre Roothman asked Bourgard whether burning the fuel would minimize damage to the environment.

"I'm not able to answer that," Bourgard replied. "I simply don't have that information."

Roothman said the incident took place in the fall of 2014, but a water sample was not taken until June 2015 and was never tested for hydrocarbons.

When asked why, Bourgard said: "It's not something that we typically do."

Under questioning by the Crown, he said water samples cannot be taken from frozen water and they are not a requirement for laying charges.

In the 30-second clip shown in court, a narrator says Beets is giving the equipment, called a dredge, a "Viking baptism to change its luck."

Mark Favron, a welder employed by Tamarack, is seen in the clip pouring the gas. 

Favron testified that he asked Beets if it was OK to pour the fuel into the water and that he poured about half the 7.5 litres of gas that was in the container.

He said he did not know he was being filmed and tried to get out of the frame when he saw the cameras.

"We were basically off the clock and a lot of stuff was going on," Favron said.

"At one point, I saw a gas can that had some gas in it and I decided that for fun, I would pour some gas on the pond and it would be lit on fire."

Favron was fined about $17,000 after pleading guilty to charges laid in the incident.

(Whitehorse Star)

Emily Blake, Whitehorse Star, The Canadian Press