A judge in Prince Rupert provincial court has approved a proposal for a tugboat owner and his company to pay $310,000 toward programs aimed at preventing future fatalities.
The decision comes more than two years after two men died when a tugboat sank off the coast of northern B.C., but specifics on the proposal won’t be heard until January 2024 at the earliest.
The Crown and defence made a joint submission to the court that if there was a fine, the appropriate amount would be $310,000, with $15,000 of that paid by James Geoffrey Bates and the remaining $295,000 paid by the company Wainwright Marine, explained Graeme Hooper, counsel to Bates.
Bates is the president of Bates Properties Ltd., with Wainwright Marine as one of its operations.
It was in 2021 that a tugboat sank near Kitimat killing two mariners: 58-year-old tug captain Troy Pearson and 25-year-old crew member Charley Cragg. A third crew member survived when the tug Ingenika went down in a storm in February 2021 while towing a barge.
Hooper told Black Press Media Sept. 22 that the day prior Judge Nina Purewal agreed to the proposal, noting that the families supported the idea of the money being allocated toward prevention.
In February, eight charges were approved against Wainwright Marine Services and Bates.
Hooper explained that on Aug. 16, 2023, Bates pleaded guilty to one count under the Workers Compensation Act, with the seven remaining counts stayed. The company pleaded guilty to three counts, with the five remaining counts stayed.
Hooper explained that if there’s a conviction under the act, it’s required any fine gets paid to the WorkSafeBC accident fund.
What was proposed was that the $310,000 would instead be allocated toward programs that would prevent similar incidents from happening.
Hooper said the next steps will be identifying what those programs would be. Crown will consult with the families, while defence will consult with the company and industry in general. Hooper added they will be back before the judge in January where there will be a specific proposal on where the money will go.
“The Workers Compensation Act requires that every penny of any fine is paid to WorkSafeBC,” explained Hooper. “We didn’t see that as meaningful or appropriate given the depth of the tragedy at issue. What we’re doing here is unique, borrowing from work being done in places like New Zealand. We’re working collaboratively to find specific programs that will do real work towards prevention. Fines don’t work. Education does.”