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BC Ferries ordered to reinstate captain of sunken ferry

The captain of a ferry that sank off the coast of British Columbia, killing two people, will get his job back after a provincial board ruled it was unfair for BC Ferries to fire him.

Colin Henthorne was dismissed last year around the same time as three other bridge crew from the Queen of the North.

He complained to WorkSafeBC, and in an inspection report released yesterday, the provincial workers safety board found he was fired for raising safety concerns after the ship went down. The organization said it's against the law to fire an employee for raising such concerns.

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The Queen of the North ran aground in B.C.'s Inside Passage on the northern coast just after midnight on March 22, 2006.

Fifty-five passengers and 46 crew members escaped. Gerald Foisey and Shirley Rosette of 100 Mile House, B.C., didn't make it off the ship and are presumed drowned.

Deborah Marshall of BC Ferries confirmed yesterday that the privately run, provincially owned company was ordered to reinstate the captain.

"The order states that we have to reinstate him to his previous position. And the order states that we have to do that by May 25," she said.

Mr. Henthorne will captain one of two vessels making the northern run, either the Northern Adventure or the replacement ship for the Queen of the North, the Northern Expedition.

An investigation into the fatal accident found that Mr. Henthorne wasn't on the bridge when the ferry ran into the island.

A WorkSafeBC inspection report released to the media yesterday said the captain was fired, in part, because he raised occupational health and safety concerns after the sinking.

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The board ruled the dismissal was unfair.

"WorkSafeBC ordered the employer to provide a remedy to the worker," the report stated.

Donna Freeman, spokeswoman for WorkSafeBC, said the order was the result of a "discrimination complaint" made to WorkSafeBC.

"It refers to a decision made in a discriminatory action complaint that was filed with WorkSafeBC by a worker of BC Ferries," Ms. Freeman said.

Discriminatory action complaints are protected by privacy legislation so the decision itself isn't available to the public.

"A discriminatory action complaint is filed with us if a worker believes they have been disciplined, and that could be laid off, terminated or other actions, as a result of reporting health and safety concerns," Ms. Freeman said.

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BC Ferries can appeal the decision.

Mr. Henthorne's lawyer, Howard Ehrlich, declined to comment, as did Mr. Henthorne's union, the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers' Union.

The decision also orders BC Ferries to try to reach an agreement by May 25 on the amount of money owing Mr. Henthorne for wage loss, lost benefits, out-of-pocket expenses and interest.

A Transportation Safety Board report concluded that the crew of the ferry had not followed basic safe sailing practices the night the ship sank.

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