NDP leader Adrian Dix met with former employees of Lakeland Mills and their families this week, following WorkSafeBC's recent decision to recommend regulatory charges but not criminal charges.
Dix said there is concern that the recommendations will not be acted on, the way the provincial Crown decided not to proceed with any criminal prosecution action in the Babine Forest Products incident two months earlier.
Both mills exploded and burned in early 2012, killing four and injuring dozens more.
Crown stated in the Babine case that WorkSafe used methods that would not stand up in court. WorkSafe rejected that claim, responding that it had successfully prosecuted similar cases for years.
The provincial government's spokesperson for WorkSafe, Scott McCloy, did not respond to an interview request this week pertaining to the Lakeland investigation package being forwarded to Crown prosecutors.
"Justice has not been served and the sense is profound that an independent review outside of government is required, not the premier appointing one of her own people [John Dyble, deputy minister to the premier] to look at the back and forth of the government's own actions," said Dix.
He said he has heard from WorkSafeBC that there was "a mountain of evidence" that may or may not have won a case but was worthy of public disclosure.
"We do know that cabinet ministers intervened early on, wouldn't allow the disclosure of any evidence, saying they wanted to protect the integrity of the process, they said they didn't want to compromise the process, but the process was compromised."
Asked if he thought there was some sort of coverup going on for political reasons he said "I can't imagine it was deliberate" but that the process "was bungled."
Dix has family connections to victims of the Air India bombing and remembered that calls for an independent inquiry were similarly resisted by government but when it eventually did occur, it led to a better understanding of not only the tragedy but also the processes involved in investigating and prosecuting the case, and it led to improvements being made in the system.
"Imagine you are a member of a family who lost a loved one [in one of the mill explosions]," Dix said. "And you hear from Crown prosecutors that they were handed a mountain of evidence but they aren't going to put it into court because they didn't really think they could win. Then the next day you hear from another agency of the Crown who says 'look, we've done these investigations many times before.' Imagine hearing that message."
Crown prosecutors identified two topics that led to their dismissal of the case before it even went to court. One was concern over the investigation techniques, the other was the matter of "due diligence." They contended that Babine's owners would have a solid basis for arguing the forest industry on the whole, and their operation in specific, could not have been prepared for such a catastrophic incident because no such concerns about explosive qualities in wood dust had ever come to light.
The report by Dyble examining the impasse between Crown and WorkSafeBC said that Crown had warned WorkSafe in the past that their investigation techniques had to be upgraded, but did not express if the "due diligence" issue would have trumped the case even if the investigation happened differently.
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