Canada

Charges laid in Walkerton water tragedy

Charges laid against Koebel brothers in Walkerton water tragedy.

Criminal charges have been laid against the two brothers who were in charge of Walkerton's water supply when an E. coli outbreak struck the Ontario town in 2000.

Stan Koebel was manager of Walkerton's Public Utilities Commission. He faces seven charges. Frank Koebel was foreman and faces five charges.

Stan Koebel's lawyer said that having been through a public inquiry and intense media scrutiny, the brothers had already been "found guilty in the court of public opinion."

Eventually, half the population of the town of 2,500 became ill and seven died. Three years later, many are still suffering the long-term effects of E. coli poisoning.

The water system had been contaminated by a deadly strain of the bacteria when animal waste washed into one of the town wells.

Chaytor said the charges were laid after an extensive Ontario Provincial Police investigation, which had been ongoing since May 25, 2000. He said police laid the charges that were supported by the evidence, and that no more charges were coming.

Trudell said the laying of charges was "disappointing," and wondered why only the Koebel brothers were facing criminal trials.

The brothers testified at the inquiry and hid nothing, Trudell said. "The government admitted nothing, until they were pushed into a corner where it became clear that many had failed in the performance of their duties."

Associate Chief Justice Dennis O'Connor said in his inquiry report that Stan Koebel never intended to hurt anyone. But he concluded the PUC manager had lied about a laboratory report showing the water was contaminated.

Rules laid down for judicial inquiries keep prosecutors from using a witness's self-incriminating testimony at the inquiry. So police had to conduct a separate investigation covering the same material dealt with by the inquiry.

The investigation included 44 search warrants, thousands of interviews, and hundreds of thousands of documents.

O'Connor's report was also critical of the Conservative government under former premier Mike Harris. O'Connor said the government didn't assess the risks of its cuts, and accused the Ministry of the Environment of not enforcing its own policies.

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