Canada

Ontario blames Walkerton on worker

Ontario government blames deadly E. coli contamination in Walkerton on the town's former water manager.

Calling his behaviour reckless, the government of Ontario blamed a town's former water manager Thursday for a deadly E. coli contamination last year.

Stan Koebel broke safety regulations by not testing Walkerton's water properly and by failing to make sure it was purified, the province said in its closing arguments at the Walkerton public inquiry.

"The reckless practices were fundamental to what happened," according to one of the government's lawyers, Frank Marrocco.

Seven people died and more than 2,000 residents became ill when Walkerton's water supply became contaminated in May 2000. It's believed heavy rain washed a deadly strain of bacteria from cattle manure into the town's water system.

During the public inquiry, Koebel admitted that safety rules were not always followed, and that records were sometimes falsified by his staff. Police are still investigating whether to lay criminal charges.

On Thursday, the Ontario government told Justice Dennis O'Connor that it would be wrong to conclude that provincial policies or budget cuts caused the tragedy.

The system can't work without competent people at the local level who act in good faith, Marrocco said.

"It's unrealistic to think that there's any guardian angel anywhere who's going to save you from doing outright irresponsible things," Marrocco argued. "There's an element of responsibility that all the players have to assume."

The government didn't offer any suggestions about how to make sure drinking water is safe. The issue may be raised when the province presents the second part of its closing statements next week.

Meanwhile Koebel's lawyer, Bill Trudell, slammed the government for trying to "demonize" his client, and for not accepting some of the responsibility for what happened.

"It's a brutal attack by big government on a little guy who made mistakes," Trudell told reporters Thursday. Koebel's lawyer will present his closing arguments next week.

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