Inquest decision sparks backlash

Coroner Lisa Lapointe's move to adjourn the inquest into the fatal Lakeland Mills sawmill explosion caused ripples through Victoria on Wednesday.

The proceedings at the Prince George courthouse stalled after it came to light that WorkSafeBC had known for two years about an independent investigation commissioned by Lakeland's lawyers into the April 23, 2012, blast that killed two employees and injured nearly two dozen others. The B.C. Coroners Service did not know about the investigation until it came out through inquest questioning.

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During Wednesday afternoon's question period in the legislature, Opposition MLAs continued their call for a public inquiry.

"The inquest is supposed to get answers. We now know that the company has its own interests, and they have protected those at the inquest," said NDP labour critic Shane Simpson. "It's now becoming painfully clear that WorkSafe has its own interests, and they appear to be protecting those at the the inquest, maybe at the expense of the coroner being able to get answers, and that's wrong."

Prince George-Valemount MLA and Jobs Minister Shirley Bond, while expressing sorrow for what the affected families are going through, reiterated the government's position that the coroner has a broad range of powers at her disposal and that those are being used.

"She is going to work through this process. We are certainly not going to intervene or interject ourselves into this discussion," said Bond.

Forest, Lands and Natural Resource critic Harry Bains said the inquest is raising more questions than answers and failing the families involved, while Vancouver-Kingsway MLA Adrian Dix went further, calling the inquest a "fiasco."

In the days after the Lakeland explosion, Premier Christy Clark came north and spoke to injured workers and their families, promising them accountability and justice, said Dix.

"And what have we got? Botched investigations, unreleased reports, failure to pursue laws passed by Parliament, finger pointing between agencies, workers forced to extraordinary lengths to get the benefits that they deserve, a rejection of the family's request for a public inquiry, a rejection of the family's request for legal assistance," said Dix. "A total lack of accountability and justice for the families."

The government won't insert itself into the process and throw out the work that's already been done, said Bond.

"We're going to let the coroner do her work," she said. "We are going to continue to make sure that as the recommendations come forward, additional action will be taken."

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