Yukon Workers' Comp urged to drop negligence charges, apologize
The Yukon Chamber of Mines wants the territory's Workers' Compensation, Health and Safety Board to withdraw charges against Aurora Geosciences, which is being accused of negligence leading to an employee being killed by a bear last year.
The chamber also wants the compensation board to apologize to the victim's family, the company and the industry for filing those charges in the first place. Chamber president John Witham said Monday that he didn't know why the mining industry would be hit with such charges.
"We're not sure … why this is driven toward the mining industry," he said. "It's really annoying to the members of the chamber of mines."
The six charges against Aurora Geosciences stem from the death of Jean-François Pagé, 28, who was mauled to death by a grizzly bear in April 2006.
Pagé was staking mining claims in the bush near Ross River, about 198 kilometres northeast of Whitehorse, when 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 said the sow probably attacked Pagé to protect its young.
The board alleges that Aurora Geosciences, which provides geological services for mineral, oil and gas exploration in Northern Canada and Alaska, did not properly train or equip Pagé for the job.
But Witham said run-ins with bears happen regularly, usually without incident. Furthermore, he said there is no training that would have helped Pagé in that situation.
"It's easy to sit back in your big blue office and dictate that the bush will be a workplace, like a plastic office in Whitehorse," Witham said. "It's not a plastic office in Whitehorse. …The bush will always be the bush. And it doesn't matter what kind of a bureaucrat you are, you cannot regulate the behaviour of wild animals in the bush in the Yukon."
Aurora Geosciences' first court appearance is scheduled for June 5. The charges can carry penalties of up to a year in jail and a $150,000 fine.
Not only does Witham want the compensation board to withdraw the six charges, he's also demanded apologies from the board and reprimands to the people who brought the charges. He said the chamber, an independentindustry association,is prepared to put all its resources behind Aurora Geosciences, a member company, to fight the board's charges.
"I want an apology to Jean-Francois's family," Witham said.
He also wants an apology to Aurora Geosciences, which "was instrumental in putting safety programs in place for workers in the bush. And I want an apology to the mining industry at large."