Lakeland workers and families resolute on the need for a full public inquiry into B.C.’s workplace protection system

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PRINCE GEORGE – Victims and families of the Lakeland mill tragedy remain resolute that only a full, public and independent investigation will deliver them, and the families of Burns Lake, some level of justice while protecting other workers in the province, said New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix.

“Public inquiries are essential when governments fail to meet fundamental obligations, including delivering justice and keeping workers safe,” said Dix. “The WorkSafe report, the statement from Crown, and the labour minister’s response Monday all signal that the failure to press charges in the Babine and Lakeland explosions are linked to the undermining of workplace safety enforcement, and regulation that has taken place under the Liberal government.

“But instead of subjecting itself to scrutiny, the Liberals yesterday proposed another internal review, as an alternative to full, independent examination into B.C.’s workplace safety regime. This response, along with the contents of the WorkSafe report into the Lakeland explosion, and Crown counsel’s statements, have made the families and workers of Lakeland resolute that a public inquiry into both the Babine and Lakeland catastrophes is required,” said Dix Tuesday in Prince George, following a meeting he had with families and workers of Lakeland last night.

The WorkSafe report, issued yesterday, found that sawdust was a factor in explosion at Lakeland, and that this catastrophe that killed workers Glenn Roche and Allan Little and left 14 others critically injured was also preventable. It also had determined the same with the Babine explosion that killed Robert Luggi and Carl Charlie.  Meanwhile, Crown counsel stated that WorkSafe’s failure to collect evidence about how Lakeland’s management was addressing sawdust hazards contributed to no regulatory charges being laid against the company.

Monday, in response to Crown’s announcement, Labour Minister Shirley Bond announced that a coroner’s inquest would be held into the Lakeland disaster, and that she had assigned BC Ferries commissioner Gord Macatee to contrast WorkSafe BC with other similar regulatory bodies in other jurisdictions. A coroner’s inquest is already being held into the Babine explosion.

“Legal opinion provided by counsel E. David Crossin makes clear that a coroner’s inquest is not a substitute to a public inquiry. Mr. Crossin determined that a coroner’s inquest, due to statutory limitations, would not be able to consider a wide range of issues with a level of breadth comparable to public inquiry. Mr. Crossin also discussed how a public inquiry into the Babine explosion was appropriate, and the same reasons would apply to extend the inquiry to include Lakeland,” explained Dix.

Dix also pointed out how another internal review, following on the heels of the internal review the premier called in January, is insufficient.

“Setting up investigations where the government asks the questions ensures that answers generated will be limited in scope and scrutiny,” said Dix. “The conflict of interest is inherent, and that doesn’t move toward justice for the victims and it doesn’t serve the needs of workers, tens of thousands of whom work in industrial workplaces every day.

“It is a process that is set up to leave out workers, families in Prince George and Burns Lake, and other workers across the province who deserve clear, full answers to many questions that the tragedies at Lakeland and Babine, and others that have preceded them, raise; questions that include: why have there been 1,350 workplace related deaths in B.C. since 2004, yet not a single charge under the federal act passed specifically to enhance worker safety; and how the cuts the Liberals government made affected the enforcement and regulation of workplace safety in the provinc” said Dix.

The last independent examination of the B.C.’s workplace safety system took place 15 years ago.