British Columbia·CBC Investigates

Vancouver Canucks' owners fined again for unsafe vehicle at family's berry operation

WorkSafeBC has fined the family that owns the NHL's Vancouver Canucks for once again using an unsafe vehicle to transport farm workers on its giant berry operation in Pitt Meadows, B.C.

The $53K penalty reflects 'high risk of serious injury or death' for potential brake failure

Francesco Aquilini, centre, speaks with reporters alongside his brothers Roberto, left, and Paolo in 2008. WorksafeBC fined them $53,690 this month. (Richard Lam/The Canadian Press)

B.C.'s Aquilini family is in the penalty box once again. And not for hockey violations.

WorkSafeBC has fined the family that owns the NHL's Vancouver Canucks for once again using an unsafe vehicle to transport farm workers on its giant berry operation in Pitt Meadows, B.C.

WorkSafeBC's review division upheld a penalty of $53,690  imposed on the Aquilini family in October 2018 for having an unsafe vehicle last summer, saying the violation resulted in a "high risk of serious injury or death."

The family had appealed, but now the review division has upheld the original decision.

Bus pulled out of service

It is the third time in eight years the family has been penalized by WorkSafeBC — a provincial agency mandated to protect worker safety in the province — for its unsafe farm worker transport vehicles at its Golden Eagle Berry operation.

The Aquilini family was penalized for mechanical problems with its 1997 Eldo bus used for transporting workers in the summer of 2018. The problems included a major leak at the air brake compressor line. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

In August 2018, a 1997 Eldo bus, was pulled out of service  after it was found to have numerous mechanical deficiencies, including a major leak at the air brake compressor discharge line. In 2011 and 2012, the family was also penalized for unsafe farm worker transport vehicles. 

In the inspection of the Eldo bus last summer,  the bus also was found to have no push rod indicators — which are part of the air brake system — its high beam headlight was not working, the left front air bag was deteriorating, there was an audible air leak at the front air bag levering valve and the rear battery was not secure. 

The Aquilini Golden Eagle Berry Farm Group runs large blueberry and cranberry operations in Pitt Meadows, B.C. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

WorkSafeBC review officer Seeley Brocklebank wrote that although the number of passengers in the vehicle at the time of the inspection last summer wasn't specified, she was satisfied "there were potential hazards present, given the maintenance issues."

"The employer should have been aware of the need for pre-shift vehicle inspections" under motor vehicle regulations, she wrote.

The family's Golden Eagle Group operates both blueberry and cranberry farms totalling approximately 2,023 hectares in Pitt Meadows. CBC has learned WorkSafeBC cited the operation for numerous health and safety violations in the last four years.

'Safety is a core value'

Dula Badesha, production manager with the family's Golden Eagle Farm Group, wrote in an e-mail to CBC that "safety is a core value for our workers," and the firm continually strives to maintain a safe environment for their workers.

Badesha wrote "our drivers are instructed they cannot drive a vehicle if there is a mechanical problem," adding that it was unfortunate their driver had not followed policy and that the supervisor had been unaware of deficiencies until after inspection. 

"After this incident....we implemented even stronger ensure this does not happen again," Badesha wrote.

Previous warning

WorkSafeBC imposed the fine on the Aquilinis in part because the previous summer, in 2017, the Aquilinis were warned about another unsafe vehicle used to transport workers. At that time, vehicle inspectors pulled a 1994 Bluebird bus out of service for mechanical deficiencies. WorkSafeBC then issued a warning letter to the family.

In 2017, the Aquilini family was warned about mechanical problems with a 1994 yellow bus including: brake shoe linings too slim, track bar pins loose, exhaust leak and axle 2 left outer tier cords being exposed. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

The 2017 deficiencies included thin brake shoe linings, outer tire cords exposed, loose track bar pins and an exhaust leak. The driver of the bus was using an international driver's licence.

$125K fine in 2012 for unsafe vehicle

In 2012, Worksafe imposed $125,000, its highest fine for the year on the Aquilinis for operating an unsafe vehicle for transporting workers.

That came on the heels of another penalty imposed in 2011. That year, a review officer upheld two fines totaling $125,000  levied against the berry operation for health and safety violations — including for use of an unsafe vehicle to transport workers.

In addition to the three penalties, CBC News has learned that WorkSafeBC found numerous violations at the Golden Eagle Pitt Meadows berry operation between January 2015 and January 2019. According to WorkSafeBC records obtained through a freedom-of-information request, 41 violations of WorkSafeBC's occupational health and safety rules were found.

The Aquilini's Golden Eagle Farms were cited for 41 violations of health and safety rules by WorkSafeBC between 2015 and 2019. The firm complied with orders to rectify the problems. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

Those violations included unsafe storage of berry bins in a manner that they could fall on a worker's head, not reporting worker injuries to WorkSafeBC, and not conducting first aid assessments on workers after getting sick from heat stress and collapsing in the field.

The Aquilinis subsequently complied with orders to rectify the problems.


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