Burns Lake sawmill probe failure prompts calls for change
Labour and legal experts say police may have to be involved sooner in these kinds of investigations
Only a day after Premier Christy Clark ordered a review of the handling of the Babine sawmill fire investigation, there are calls for changes to the way WorkSafeBC and other agencies handle such probes.
WorkSafeBC says the investigation into the explosion and fire at the Babine Forest Products sawmill, which claimed two lives and injured 20 others in January 2012, was one of its largest and was done with great care.
But the crown declined to lay criminal charges, in part because of alleged deficiencies in the safety agency's investigation.
It found that what had begun as a WorkSafeBC safety probe of the mill evolved into a full-blown investigation. But the rules of evidence collection for criminal investigations weren't followed, including obtaining a search warrant to gather evidence and a warning to officials of their rights.
B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair says something has to change.
"Can you imagine you're the family who has just lost your son or daughter to an industrial accident and you find out these agencies are fighting each other over how to do an investigation? How demoralizing is that? I think we've lost faith in the system."
Criminal defence lawyer Emmet Duncan says the implications are profound.
Regulatory agencies, whether its WorkSafeBC looking into an accident or an environmental watchdog looking into an oil spill, are all being put on notice that if there is any possible wrong-doing, they had better think of how their case will stand up in court, he said.
"They really have to think about the fact that their investigation may implicate individuals, and if the government wants to hold those individuals or companies to account, the government has to be sure they've gone through the proper processes to ensure the process is fair."
The B.C. Federation of Labour's Sinclair is calling for a formal protocol where, for future accidents, WorkSafeBC and police agencies must work together.
"They both show up, and they both talk, and they both look, and they both see what they should be doing and they co-operate together. So the standard is raised to the highest level."
A crown report released on January 10th found four possible charges could have been laid.
- Failing to prevent hazardous accumulation of material
- Failing to safely remove combustible dust
- Failing to ensure the health and safety of workers
- Failing to remedy hazardous workplace conditions
The report, however, says failure to follow the rules of evidence in a criminal case meant that no substantial likelihood of conviction existed — the crown standard for charge approval in B.C.
The families of the victims say they will celebrate the memories of their loves ones on Monday, but don't feel justice has been served.
with files from the CBC's Tim Weekes