The Yukon Workers Compensation Board has filed negligence charges against a Yellowknife-based mining exploration company, blaming it for the death of an employee who was killed by a bear.
The six charges against Aurora Geosciences that were laid last week are considered to be the first of their kind in northern Canada and British Columbia.
The compensation board alleges the company failed to properly train Jean-François Pagé, who was mauled to death by a grizzly bear in April 2006.
Pagé, a 28-year-old originally from Quebec, was staking mining claims in the bush near Ross River, about 198 kilometres northeast of Whitehorse.
He was apparently attacked by a sow after coming within five metres of a bear den that contained two cubs, RCMP said at the time. They believed the sow probably attacked Pagé to protect its young.
The board alleges the company didn't properly train or equip Pagé for the job.
His death shocked friends like Annie Savoie, who described Pagé as knowledgeable about the Yukon wilderness and "a real bush guy, he loved it," she told CBC News.
"He was living in it, too, so I don't think he was unproperly trained in that circumstance."
Veteran Yukon geologist Al Doherty, who helped train Pagé for his job, warned that should the board's charges against Aurora Geosciences be proven in court, it could set a dangerous precedent for everyone who works in the wilderness.
"It opens a huge can of worms for employers, because now all of a sudden it seems that if you don't get up and dress your employee in the morning, you're liable, you know?" said Doherty, who survived a similar bear attack 22 years earlier.
"This was a bear attack.… He walked into a bear den, and even if he had bear spray or a gun he might not have made it."
Doherty said safety records show bear attacks are rare in the mineral exploration business. Most accidents involve slips or fall, he added.
Aurora Geosciences' first court appearance is scheduled for June 5. The charges carry penalties of up to a year in jail and a $150,000 fine.
Aurora Geosciences is a company of geologists and geophysicists who conduct mineral, oil and gas exploration in Northern Canada and Alaska.