No fine too large says Lake Babine chief

The $1,011,639.62 penalty and cost claim levy ordered April 3 by B.C.’s workplace watchdog is the largest in provincial history.

Worksafe BC’s decision to fine Babine Forest Products Ltd. (BFP) more than $1 million in connection with the 2012 sawmill explosion that killed two workers and injured 20 others here was greeted with disappointment and anger by several members of the community.

The $1,011,639.62 penalty and cost claim levy ordered April 3 by B.C.’s workplace watchdog is the largest in provincial history, and according to provincial Jobs Minister Shirley Bond, the maximum amount allowed under current Worksafe BC rules. Yet Wilf Adam, chief of the Lake Babine Nation (LBN), suggested last week it isn’t enough to satisfy many his constituents.

“First, I don’t think any fine is large enough to compensate the loss of two human beings,” Adam stressed. “Also, (it) should consider how to help heal the injury caused by this preventable explosion. There should be a long-term plan how to help mentally of all the injured workers and families, (and also) care in terms of the needs of the people who lost loved ones.

“Some (LBN members) are understandably very upset that the company just gets a fine and that’s it,” he added. “No one takes responsibility or faces the justice for this (accident).”

Maureen Luggi, whose husband Robert and second cousin Carl Charlie were killed in the Jan. 20, 2012 accident, described both the order and Worksafe BC’s investigation report as “inadequate.” She implied that both the administrative penalty and claims cost levy should have been higher, but acknowledged the provincial safety organization has likely done all it could within “its limited scope of rules and regulations.”

“Issuing fines of $1 million to Babine Forest Products does not provide closure nor justice to the Luggi family,” she stressed. “I want an independent public inquiry into the Babine Forest Products sawmill explosion of Jan. 20, 2012 which caused the death of my husband. I would like to see the Westray Amendments to Canada’s Criminal Code enforced in British Columbia.”

Luggi is currently promoting two online petitions. One urges government to use little known provisions in the Criminal Code (known as the Westray amendments) to hold corporations, their executives, and directors criminally accountable for worker safety, while the other calls on BC’s Liberal government to hold a public enquiry into the Babine mill explosion.

Both petitions have been signed by thousands of individuals, and Luggi says the public enquiry petition will be tabled in the legislature soon.

Luggi does not believe the upcoming coroner’s inquest into the catastrophic fire at BFP will adequately address her concerns or those of the community.

“The recent announcement of the chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, states that a coroner’s inquest in the fall of 2014 will address all of my questions and concerns. I do not accept that, and although I will participate in this inquest despite the enormous amount of grief it will add to my plate, I still want a public inquiry and I want to see Bill C-45 (Westray amendments) enforced,” she explained. “Nothing short of that is going to be acceptable.

“I cannot compromise on this, as I have lost my husband, I have lost my livelihood, my children have lost their father, (and) my in-laws have lost their son and brother,” she continued. “This was a preventable accident, and my husband was in an unsafe workplace that night. If they smelled gas and the temperatures caused the water lines to be frozen and there was no fire safety, what is the reason this sawmill was not shut down that night or that week? Who made the decision for this sawmill to remain opened? Who investigated the smell of gas? What was done about it? Was the sawmill evacuated and the proper safety inspectors called in that night? It doesn’t appear to be that way. Lots of unanswered questions (remain) and I will pursue this until I receive the answers I am looking for.”

Worksafe BC’s April 3 announcement, combined with its failure to properly conduct the investigation into the fatal Babine mill explosion, are clear indications that B.C.’s workplace safety legislation is out of date, she said.

“I believe that the Workers Compensation Act is in need of serious review, in particular Section 10 of the act, which protects companies from being sued for wrongful death and/or negligence,” Luggi explained. “I understand it was created in 1917, which was a different time, a different era, a much different industry, a much different political and economic environment. The act is outdated and is not relevant to the Worksafe explosions and incidents causing death and/or injury.

“Premier Christy Clark and her government need to take a serious look at this, as well as the families’ desire for a public inquiry and the enforcement of Bill C-45.”

 

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