The Opposition NDP put the Attorney General in their crosshairs over the handling of the current coroner’s inquest into the Lakeland Mills explosion.
Justice Minister Suzanne Anton fielded questions from B.C. NDP members in the Legislative Assembly Wednesday afternoon over the lack of participation by senior WorkSafeBC officials and shortage of funds made available for legal counsel for Lakeland employees called as witnesses.
B.C. NDP leader John Horgan referred to a March 2 Vancouver Sun story about WorkSafeBC former president and CEO David Anderson and former vice-president in charge of investigations Donna Wilson not being called as witnesses in the proceedings taking place at the Prince George Law Courts.
“The people involved at Lakeland want justice for their families. They want justice for their communities,” said Horgan. “I would suggest to the Attorney General that she stand with me and those on this side of the House and call to ensure that the WorkSafe officials that botched the investigation, the WorkSafe officials that are not on the list of witnesses, be put on that list post-haste.”
Anton stressed the independence of coroner Lisa Lapointe.
“She has, I am informed, called 50 witnesses who have the best information, she believes, relating to the issues and circumstances surrounding the deaths [of employees Alan Little and Glenn Roche],” Anton said, adding that the witness list is not closed and that others may be added. “The coroner is conducting her independent inquiry in Prince George. We should all have confidence in the work that she is doing. She is determined to find out what happened in that terrible tragedy – to find out the circumstances of the tragedy so that such a thing will not happen again in British Columbia.”
But in the course of that determination, witnesses such as longtime Lakeland employee Brian Primrose, are being left to fend for themselves, said economic development, jobs, labour and skills critic Shane Simpson.
Simpson was in Prince George to attend the first day of the inquiry on Monday and saw Primrose’s testimony.
“A series of lawyers cross-examined Mr. Primrose about complex issues that he had no help preparing for,” Simpson said, calling on the attorney general to release funds “to allow the victims to hire their own legal counsel.”
Anton said the inquest’s legal team is there to help the families and make sure that “voices are properly heard,” but Simpson said it wasn’t happening.
“The day that I was there coroner’s counsel was the first to interview the witness, Mr. Primrose. He started by presenting him with a series of photos that Mr. Primrose had never seen… and was asked to explain these photos of the mill and what they were and where they were. And he had never seen them,” Simpson said. “That was the degree of preparation that the coroner’s counsel had provided to him.”