Union pulls out of B.C. sawmills inquest

USW cites lack of confidence in process, holds out hope for public inquiry
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 03/25/2015

The union that represented three of four workers killed in sawmill blasts in British Columbia in 2012 has pulled out of the inquest, citing a lack of confidence that the process will provide answers.

The United Steelworkers union, which represents about 9,000 forestry workers, withdrew from the ongoing coroner’s inquest into two separate deadly sawmill disasters three months apart in 2012 — at Lakeland Mills in Prince George and Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake — which is supposed to provide analysis and recommendations. The explosions killed four workers and injured more than 40 others.

According to the USW, there is little hope that the inquest will probe the many outstanding questions that remain.

“It is now clear that the inquest is not going to adequately answer any of the questions that demand to be answered,” said the union’s district director for British Columbia, Stephen Hunt. “The withholding of crucial evidence from the employer would have made a difference as to how the USW conducted its case and we will not participate in an exercise that does such a disservice to the families who lost loved ones and to the larger community.”

Prompted by a flawed investigation by WorkSafeBC, the province’s justice ministry did not lay charges, citing that the bungled report would likely be thrown out in the courts. As such, the coroner’s service determined an inquest would be the most effective way to examine the explosions.

But the coroner’s review is not doing what it is mandated to do, Hunt said, adding that WorkSafeBC’s flub has had a domino effect — because the RCMP and B.C. Safety Authority relied on a flawed investigation to conduct their own, they have also produced unsound reports.

“Over the past week, the inquest has heard how WorkSafeBC’s failure to carry out its mandate to ensure the health and safety of workers resulted in a complete mishandling of sawmill safety both before and after the explosion,” he explained. “Despite this tragic failure to do its job, the agency is not being held accountable.”

Instead, the USW is calling for a public inquiry.

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