Adrian Dix, provincial NDP leader of the official opposition, was in Burns Lake on Jan. 21, 2014 at the invitation of Lake Babine Nation (LBN) for a specially convened LBN community meeting, including LBN chief and council.
The closed door meeting was to give Dix an opportunity to meet with members of the LBN community not satisfied with Crown Counsel’s decision not to proceed with any charges, regulatory or criminal, against Babine Forest Products (BFP) in the wake of the January 2012 BFP mill explosion that left one of their band members dead and many injured.
Lake Babine Nation is calling for a formal inquiry – independent of both WorkSafe BC and the province – into the circumstances leading up the mill’s explosion, and into the decision not to lay charges in the case.
“I heard very strongly from some family members, the community and Lake Babine Nation that what happened here was unacceptable,” Dix said. “Two provincial agencies, WorkSafe BC and the Crown, are pointing fingers at each other, blaming each other for what is an unacceptable result.”
Dix said he and the NDP support LBN’s call for an independent inquiry.
“People rightly think there should be an independent inquiry. Only an inquiry independent of WorkSafe BC and the government – they can’t investigate themselves – will respond credibly to these problems.”
On Jan. 16, 2014, B.C. Premier Christy Clarke instructed deputy minister John Dyble to begin an urgent fact-finding mission into the circumstances surrounding the Crown’s decision not to proceed with charges.
“What he [Dyble] is doing is establishing the fact pattern,” Clark said. “We can’t make a decision about how to proceed until we’re clear about what the facts were, so I have asked him to establish those facts… When I have the facts, I’ll be in a position to make a decision about what happens next.”
On the same day as Dix’s visit to Burns Lake, the BC Coroners Service announced a public inquest into the deaths of Robert Luggi Jr. and Carl Charlie, who lost their lives in the mill explosion.
Although a coroners inquest is welcomed, it will not satisfy the concerns Dix heard while in Burns Lake.
“There’s a coroners inquest, but the inquest doesn’t address any issues concerning the investigation,” Dix said. “It will address issues leading up to and including the explosion and make recommendations, but it won’t address issues of accountability or the investigation of other Crown agencies.”
It is too early to say what the complete mandate of the called-for independent investigation would be. But it would include an investigation of why WorkSafe BC and the ministry of justice apparently don’t share the same standards of evidence collection for an investigation as serious as this. It would also address the question of why WorkSafe BC requested charges against the company only, and not against any individuals.
Another question Dix wants answer is why charges outside of the regulatory scope of the Workers Compensation Act were not considered. Criminal Code charges were not recommended, and Dix wants the inquiry to be uncover why that decision was made.
“Given the seriousness of what happened, that should have been on the table from the beginning,” Dix said. “All sides should have acted consistently with that. In any investigation you follow the evidence, but in this case much of the evidence they gathered, they’re not able to use.”
“People here want an inquiry and they should get one… The premier can and should act because it’s the right thing to do.”
On Jan. 10, 2014, the Ministry of Justice released its decision not to proceed with charges under the Workers Compensation Act against BFP as a result of its review of the WorkSafe BC investigation into the incident, as well as its review of a third-party investigation of the causes.
The WorkSafe BC report was released less than a week later.
Although both reports cited violations under the Workers Compensation Act, the BC ministry of justice decided not to proceed with charges under the act because of what the ministry described as deficiencies with WorkSafe BC evidence collection, as well as because of the availability of a defence of due diligence on the part of Babine Forest Products.