Expert legal opinion confirms public inquiry into Babine sawmill explosion and fire is still an appropriate option
VICTORIA – Terms of reference that would establish an effective public inquiry into the Babine Mill tragedy have been prepared with workers and families from Burns Lake, and vetted by expert counsel, say the New Democrats.
“After hearing the Premier in the legislature say that a public inquiry would not change anything, the families and workers of Burns Lake have spent the intervening weeks helping prepare very thorough terms of reference that would establish an effective public inquiry that meets the criteria of B.C.’s Public Inquiries Act,” said New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix.
“The inquiry would be capable of both generating systemic reforms that improve workers’ safety and lives across the province, and provide some level of accountability to those most directly impacted by the tragedy,” said Dix.
“These terms of reference correspond to those followed by other commissions of inquiry set up in British Columbia to determine the full truth underlying significant tragedies,” said New Democrat labour critic Harry Bains. “They also reflect that there are clear grounds for why an inquiry into the explosion must proceed: this workplace catastrophe, among the worst in B.C.’s history, occurred because government failed to fulfill its fundamental obligation to keep British Columbians safe and to ensure accountability.”
As part of the due diligence process, E. David Crossin, QC, one of the most renowned defence counsels in Canada and abroad, has also vetted the terms of reference that the Burns Lake families and workers developed in consort with the Official Opposition. He determined that they are viable and appropriate for a commission established under B.C.’s Public Inquires Act.
Mr. Crossin also examined the input Leonard Doust, QC provided the Clark government on the subject of a public inquiry. He found, contrary to the premier’s assertions, that it does not foreclose the creation of an inquiry.
“Specifically, Mr. Crossin found that Mr. Doust only told Clark’s deputy minister John Dyble that a public inquiry could not revive the possibility of regulatory charges being laid, which the workers and families, broader community of Burns Lake and others have always acknowledged. Therefore, he concludes that Doust‘s input to the Liberal government does not disqualify the creation of a Commission of Inquiry, the primary purpose of which would be to fix and revive B.C.’s workplace protection system, and to provide families and workers from Burns Lake some closure,” said Dix.
Mr. Crossin’s legal analysis also states that a coroner’s inquest, while valuable, cannot be considered a substitute for a public inquiry.
The proposed terms of reference and Mr. Crossin’s opinion are attached below: