Tempers flare at Burns Lake Tragedy Fund meeting

Emotions bubbled over at a public meeting held by the temporary committee of the Burns Lake Tragedy Fund last week.

While tempers flared up at a Burns Lake Tragedy Fund meeting last week

While tempers flared up at a Burns Lake Tragedy Fund meeting last week

Emotions bubbled over at a public meeting held by the temporary committee of the Burns Lake Tragedy Fund last week.

The meeting, held at the College of New Caledonia, was to be an annual general meeting where locals could nominate themselves for one of approximately nine board positions, however committee member and Burns Lake Rotary Club president Terri Dickson said the application for the group to become a society is still being processed by the government.

She said the committee had expected the application to be completed before the meeting, which would have allowed them to move forward with executive elections during the meeting, but she explained that the government is about two weeks behind in processing applications.

She said, in order to operate the fund within the law and be transparent, becoming a society is the first necessary step to take.

Local resident Johnny Johnson explained to locals that a fund he has administered for a number of years called the ‘Pinkut Creek Fish Float Fund’ was not equipped to deal with all the donations that were flooding in.

He said his fund is continuing and is completely separate from the Burns Lake Tragedy Fund. He said donations to his fund have come in over the years, mainly from the Off Highway Truckers.

Johnson said, “My fund is not a registered fund. I set it up many years ago by the seat of my pants.”

“The temporary committee didn’t want to reinvent the wheel because there was already Johnny’s fund, but when monetary donations began to accumulate they had to organize a separate fund that would be operated by a society that could cope with the amount of money coming in. To set up a society in B.C. you have to sign up with five temporary directors, but the annual general meeting will be open to everybody …. anyone can be elected to the executive,” Dickson explained. “The committee is not taking over the money or running the fund.”

She explained that the temporary committee cannot access any of the money that has been donated until the society paperwork has been processed and until a new executive has been elected. “We have no control over the money. I couldn’t even tell you how much is in the account. I have an idea of how much there is,” she said, adding that her guess is an amount of $210,000.

“A large proportion of money was also donated by Hampton Affiliates. They have donated $100,000 to the fund. The remainder has come in from other businesses and from people like you and I, just giving what they can afford to help out.”

“There has been more money promised but we can make anyone follow through with their promises. We are not expecting millions of dollars in this fund,” Dickson said.

Dickson said, “Burns Lake Rotary Club members became involved with the Burns Lake Tragedy Fund because they wanted to help.

She said that the Burns Lake Rotary Club raised $35,000 for the fund through a recent charity benefit held at the Island Gospel Church and that 100 per cent of the funds raised during the event went to the Burns Lake Tragedy Fund. The Burns Lake Rotary Club has no administration fees because they are a service club.

A member of the public asked why there was not any Babine Forest Products employees sitting on the Burns Lake Tragedy Fund committee.

Committee member Sandy Dore said the current Burns Lake Tragedy Fund committee was formed at the very first meeting of the group, at which approximately 30 people attended. “The next meeting will be an annual general meeting and there will be an opportunity for election to the executive at that time,” Dore said.

Johnson said, “We tried to get a good cross section of the town at the first meeting.”

Local resident Brenda Schaefer said, “Having no access to the money is just creating more victims. There is people in need.”

Hampton Affiliates employee Ann Currie, said that as far as she is aware the Babine Forest Products employees immediate needs are being met through either Hampton Affiliates, WorkSafe B.C. and the United Steelworkers Union.

“There is also a barn full of food that has been donated so I don’t think we are letting anybody down and if we have overlooked someone we would like to know who it is so we can help them,” Johnson said.

“The food bank is overflowing so I don’t think anyone should be going hungry … a number of people have also been delivered food hampers.”

Local Becky Thompson, who is organizing the ‘Babine Food Drive’ which is a separate initiative from the food bank said that the B.C. Food Bank has donated two cube vans full of grocery items to the Babine Food Drive. “It is at least 18 pallets of groceries,” Thompson said.

“About 500 pounds of food and other grocery items has also come in to the Babine Food Drive from Houston and Quesnel and there was three pick up loads that arrived from Fraser Lake last week. The B.C. Food Bank Association paid for the shipping of their donation …. we are not an organization and we are only doing this until these donations run out. People are volunteering to pack up hampers of grocery items and deliver them to Babine Forest Products employees. Babine Forest Products can’t release a list of employees to us because that is confidential information so we are doing our best to include everyone. We are making a trip to Fraser Lake, Colleymount and outlying areas as well.” she said.

Thompson said that 203 Babine Food Drive hampers have been delivered so far.

Dickson said a criteria committee has been established and has been working with officials from Slave Lake as well as the Red Cross. “We can learn for their mistakes … we are doing the best we can to do this right,” Dickson added.

Local Paul Jean said, “I think we have to establish if this is a need or greed situation. Yes, we have had a disaster and people are no longer employed but these people still had an income. Now everyone is on welfare and wanting to get food from the food bank and wanting hampers, while they sit back and do nothing. I look at this as greed. I think you should be careful when handing out hampers  and ask are they really in need? You said the food bank gives people two hampers per month and then the [Babine Food Drive] hampers are also being delivered. These people are getting WCB [Workers Compensation Board] payments and social assistance. There is a lot of money out there and I think they are taking advantage of the system.”

Local, Susie Tress said, “I am not on welfare. My husband Larry Tress was injured in the fire and explosion. People are not just sitting back and collecting welfare and taking advantage.”

Dickson said, “We want to make sure that we are doing justice to these donors and make sure what we do with the money is in the spirit of why the donations were given … most of the donations came in because of injured workers. When Eurocan shut down, no money came in to help that community [Kitimat] or displaced workers.”

Dickson then asked meeting attendees to write suggestions as to who the beneficiaries of the fund should be, how the fund should be administered and why.

“We are not going to be able to accept everyone’s ideas, but we will be looking for common themes. Then it will be up to the criteria committee elected at the annual general meeting to decide,” Dickson added.

To contact Becky Thompson about the Babine Food Drive  email her at becky77@telus.net.

Donations to the Burns Lake Tragedy Fund can be made at and CIBC bank across Canada.