Three years after a deadly sawmill explosion at Lakeland Mills, workers and relatives of the victims say they are resigned to not getting the justice they want from an inquest that starts Monday.
Coroner’s inquests are fact-finding processes and do not find fault. However, family and workers say they hold out some hope the inquest in Prince George will help provide answers on how and why the dust-fuelled explosion happened.
It’s important, they say, if recommendations are made, they are followed.
The wood dust-fuelled explosion and ensuing fire on April 23, 2012 killed workers Glenn Roche, 46 and Alan Little, 43, and injured 22 others. It happened just three months after a similar explosion killed two workers at Babine Forest Products near Burns Lake.
The quasi-judicial inquest provides the first public airing of the facts surrounding the Lakeland explosion after Crown counsel rejected charges following a botched WorkSafeBC investigation.
The inquest allows for cross-examination.
“We know a lot of the facts, but realize there is a lot we don’t know. Hearing them in such a public forum is going to be very difficult,” said Ronda Roche, Glenn’s widow.
“Hopefully all the facts are presented and at the very least, there are further useful recommendations that will prevent future workplace deaths. I am still holding out the possibility that through this fact-finding process, that further action, such as reopening of the investigation, may happen,” she said.
Roche, who will be testifying at the inquest, said she will be trying to find closure through the process, although she said that will be difficult without any “real” justice or accountability.
Families of the victims and workers had pressed for a full-scale inquiry, perhaps overseen by a former or sitting judge, but that idea was rejected by the B.C. Liberal government.
In announcing last year the inquests into the two explosions, B.C.’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said there is value in a process designed to hear facts and not find fault. “One of the values of that is people are compelled to speak. Anything they say cannot be used against them in another proceeding, so it really makes sure that all of the available information gets out,” she said.
Those who will participate at the inquest include workers, emergency personnel, WorkSafeBC officials and Lakeland Mills’ officials.
The Sinclar Group is the majority owner of Lakeland Mills. Canfor holds a one-third stake of the sawmill.
A second inquest into the Babine Forest Products explosion near Burns Lake, 200 kilometres west of Prince George, will start in July.
In that explosion and fire on Jan. 20, 2012, Robert Luggi Jr., 45, and Carl Charlie, 42 were killed, and another 20 workers were injured.
Maureen Luggi, Robert’s widow, said she also hopes to get some closure through the inquest process, but it will be difficult as the coroner can only make recommendations.
She added she expects to learn more details of the explosion, which will be painful.
“What we are all hoping for, really, is for the truth to come out. And that someone will be held accountable,” said Luggi, a former chief of the Lake Babine First Nation.
United Steelworkers local 1-424 president Frank Everitt said it has been a frustrating ordeal for workers and families seeking justice because they have been left with unanswered questions.
He also noted the inquest cannot assign blame.
Everitt noted WorkSafeBC was aware of the danger of the explosive nature of wood dust before the two explosions.
“What steps were taken to (firstly) follow those rules and secondly to make sure employers were following those rules, and that workers were so advised,” said Everitt.
He said it was imperative any coroner recommendations were acted on.
The B.C. government is already implementing recommendations of a special adviser appointed to WorkSafeBC. Those include a new WorkSafeBC investigation model.