Nova Scotia

N.S. family preparing lawsuits against province, companies in fatal industrial accident

The family of a man who drowned last year in an industrial accident in Sheet Harbour, N.S., is preparing to launch legal action against the provincial government and the companies responsible for the work.

Andrew Gnazdowsky died Oct. 16, 2020, while doing surveying work at N.S. Power reservoir

Andrew and Nicole Gnazdowsky on a family vacation in France. (Submitted by Nicole Gnazdowsky)

The family of a man who drowned last year in an industrial accident in Sheet Harbour, N.S., is preparing to launch legal action against the provincial government and the companies responsible for the work.

Andrew Gnazdowsky, 26, drowned on Oct. 16, 2020, at the Marshall Falls reservoir, which is operated by Nova Scotia Power. Gnazdowsky worked for Brunswick Engineering and Consulting of Saint John, which had been hired by another New Brunswick company, Gemtec Consulting, to do a bathymetric survey of the dam.

He was doing that survey when a piece of equipment failed. He swam out to retrieve the equipment and subsequently drowned. His older sister, Nicole Gnazdowsky, has been pressuring the government for answers on her brother's death ever since.

The Marshall Falls reservoir is part of Nova Scotia Power's hydro system in Sheet Harbour, N.S. ( Robert Short/CBC)

Dissatisfied with the answers she was getting, Gnazdowsky started her own search, filing numerous requests through access to information laws. In July, she received more than 500 pages of heavily redacted emails, including material that referred to her as "hostile."

Gnazdowsky has appealed the redactions. On Wednesday, she was notified that the province needs more time to respond to her appeal. Deadlines have been extended to next month for some material and to January 2022 for other information.

The province has also been providing the Gnazdowsky family with monthly updates on its investigation. The latest, sent Oct. 5, said the government could not "share specific information as it may negatively impact any potential prosecution."

"We want to assure you that this important work by the investigative team continues," the update read.

Nicole Gnazdowsky said Wednesday the correspondence has been "frustrating."

"They're not updates — they're copy and paste emails that say the exact same thing every single month," she said.

"There's no next steps or there's no information about when things are going to be wrapped up, it's just you're left completely in the dark with these kind of updates."

Gnazdowsky has spent months sifting through information related to her younger brother's death. (Robert Short/CBC)

Because of her complaints, the province has said it will no longer provide regular updates to her family.

"You have indicated that these updates are not meeting with your satisfaction," the latest email said.

"As such, and while we remain focused on the investigation, this will be our final correspondence with you until the investigation is concluded. We will share information with you at that time to provide you with the findings."

With the one-year anniversary of her brother's death just days away, Gnazdowsky and her parents have started preparing civil lawsuits, naming the province and the three companies as respondents.

"Obviously they're not in any rush to finish this, so in order to kind of secure our spot and make sure that we can actually get them to do the right thing at the end of this, we may have to proceed down the legal route, which obviously is not another situation that we want to put ourselves in," Gnazdowsky said.

The lawsuits have not been filed with the courts yet and none of the allegations of negligence has been tested.

'We need to be thorough'

In an emailed statement to CBC News, the Department of Labour offered "heartfelt condolences" to the Gnazdowsky family. 

"We need to be thorough in our pursuit to find out why a workplace fatality occurred; investigations can take up to two years to lay charges," said the statement. 

The department added that it cannot comment on an active investigation or a possible lawsuit.

"This has been the worst year of my life by far, losing my only sibling, and this whole situation has made it 100 times worse," Nicole Gnazdowsky said.

"It's been a non-stop battle to get any kind of answers."

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Blair Rhodes

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Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 35 years, the last 27 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety. He can be reached at blair.rhodes@cbc.ca

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