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Walkerton: 'Words cannot begin to express how sorry I am...'

In May 2000, bacteria seeped into Walkerton's town well. The deadly E. coli then slipped quietly through a maze of pipes and into the homes of Walkerton, Ont. Unsuspecting residents thirstily drank the polluted water and bathed in their bacteria-ridden tubs. But soon after, they began experiencing common symptoms of infection; bloody diarrhea and throbbing cramps. Seven people would eventually die and another 1286 would fall ill. The investigation which followed exposed an alarmingly unstable waterworks system made fragile by government cuts.

On Oct. 16, 2000, the Walkerton Public Inquiry began. Over the next ten months, Justice Dennis O'Connor would hear from doctors, scientists, politicians and the premier himself. But the testimony that many people were waiting to hear is that of Stan Koebel, the former Walkerton Public Utilities Manager. As heard in this CBC Radio report, Koebel offers a grave apology and makes some stunning admissions when he takes the stand at the inquiry.

Koebel admits to falsifying records, faking water sample tests and running a well without a chlorinator. He also admits that he was unqualified for the job and had no idea that E. coli was virulently dangerous. In Walkerton, many residents have defended Koebel as a guileless scapegoat who took the brunt of the blame to protect provincial officials. But others have long vilified the former PUC manager as definitively incompetent and dangerously negligent.
• Over the course of his three day testimony, Koebel also revealed that he had habitually falsified tests and provincial water safety reports for 20 years.

• "Words cannot begin to express how sorry I am, and how bad I feel about the events leading up to, and including, the last seven months. I accept responsibility for my actions. I am one of the pieces of the puzzle that came together in May, and I am grateful for this opportunity to speak." -- Stan Koebel's opening statements to the Walkerton Inquiry, Dec. 17, 2000

• Stan Koebel's younger brother Frank also worked at the PUC as the water foreman. Frank Koebel took the stand on Dec. 6 and 7, 2000, and also made the shocking confessions of drinking on the job, falsifying records and faking test results.

• It was also revealed during the Koebels' testimony that the brothers had been trained and promoted without having taken courses or examinations.

• On Nov. 17, 2000, Stan Koebel resigned from his job at the PUC.  Koebel received a $98,000 severance package, which dismayed many Walkerton residents.

• After some legal wrangling, Koebel agreed to accept a reduced severance of $48,000.

• The Toronto Star later ran an editorial cartoon of Koebel holding a cheque and dancing on a grave bearing seven crosses.

• Ontario premier Mike Harris was the 107th witness to be called at the Walkerton Inquiry.  He was the first premier in Ontario to be called before a judicial inquiry in over a half century. Harris was grilled about slashing the Environment Ministry's budget by 50 per cent and privatizing water testing. Harris responded, "I don't recall the minister or my deputy giving me any indication that any of the potential risks that have been identified could not be managed."

• To hear a clip from CBC radio's The Current on the sentencing of the Koebels, click here.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: Dec. 19, 2000
Guest(s): Bruce Davidson, Stan Koebel, Bill Trudell
Reporter: Dave Seglins
Duration: 1:33

Last updated: July 12, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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