United Steelworkers official Adam Connell is seeking names for a petition calling for a public inquiry into the sawmill blasts that took place at Lakeland Mills and Babine Forest Products.
So far Connell, who is in Prince George this week, has gathered 5,200 names and aims to have 10,000 by the time it’s presented to the provincial legislature this fall.
A coroner’s inquest into the Lakeland disaster, completed May 14, produced 33 recommendations to prevent similar events in the future, and a separate inquest into the Babine incident is set to begin July 13 in Burns Lake.
Twenty-two workers were injured and Glenn Roche, 46, and Alan Little, 43, died from injuries suffered in the April 23, 2012, incident at Lakeland.
Three months earlier, on January 20, 2012, an explosion and fire ripped through Babine Forest Products near Burns Lake, killing Carl Charlie, 42, and his co-worker Robert Luggi, 45, and injuring 20 other workers.
Among Connell’s concerns is whether recommendations from a coroner’s inquest will be acted upon, and he maintained those from a public inquiry would have more teeth. He also said an inquest lacks the power to place blame.
RCMP opted against pursuing criminal charges in both incidents.
Crown counsel turned down a request from WorkSafeBC to pursue four charges under provincial safety law, in part because no warrants were issued rendering some evidence inadmissible in court.
Although it was also noted the mill owners would likely have had a good argument for due diligence, WorkSafeBC did issue steep fines against the owners of the sawmills. Lakeland Mills Ltd. was fined $724,163, consisting of a $97,500 administrative penalty and a $626,663 claims cost levy.
The total remains less than the $1.01-million penalty issued against the owners of Babine Forest Products, the highest ever issued by WorkSafeBC.
It consists of a $97,500 administrative penalty and a $914,000 claims cost levy.
Both penalties are being appealed by the sawmills’ respective owners.
The Lakeland inquest jury recommended the onus of proof in cases of criminal negligence involving serious injury and death in the workplace be reviewed after hearing it is very difficult to prosecute such cases.
Connell will be meeting with union officials and workers around the city until Thursday, then traveling out to Burns Lake on Friday, before returning to Prince George on Saturday where he will have a table set up at the farmers’ market.