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British Columbia ‘He is fragile’: Lilgert’s lawyers argue against prison sentence over ferry sinking

Karl Lilgert, navigator of the Queen of the North, leaves the law courts in Vancouver on May 13, 2013 after being found guilty of criminal negligence causing the deaths of two passengers in the 2006 BC Ferries sinking.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Queen of the North navigator Karl Lilgert should not go to jail, his lawyers argued Friday, despite Mr. Lilgert's conviction of criminal negligence causing death over the sinking of the large passenger ferry and the loss of two lives.

Instead of the tough, six-year sentence called for by the Crown, defence lawyer Glen Orris suggested Mr. Lilgert be given a conditional sentence of two years less a day, which would not involve time behind bars.

"There is no need to incarcerate Mr. Lilgert. It would be detrimental to the administration of justice," said Mr. Orris at his client's sentence hearing in B.C. Supreme Court.

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Court was told that the experienced, 59-year-old mariner has been under medical and psychiatric care since the Queen of the North went down seven years ago, and continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

While not discounting the devastation suffered by families of the two passengers who died, lawyer Nancy Adams, also representing Mr. Lilgert, said his life has been devastated, too.

His long-time partnership has dissolved, he has had to move away from Prince Rupert, he's lost his livelihood, and he's had to live under intense public scrutiny with the remorse and guilt he feels over what happened for seven long years, Ms. Adams told the court.

"That already amounts to a seven-year sentence," she said. "He is fragile."

Mr. Lilgert was in charge of navigating the Queen of the North in the early hours of March 22, 2006, when a required course change was not made, causing the vessel to crash directly into Gil Island as it travelled south from Prince Rupert.

At the time, he was alone on the bridge with quartermaster Karen Briker. The two had just ended an intense affair, and speculation over whether any interaction between the ex-lovers was a factor in the sinking has hung over the case almost from the beginning.

During the trial, the Crown contended that Mr. Lilgert was distracted by "personal business" with Ms. Briker, indicating it might have been sexual activity or a heated argument.

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Testifying in his own defence, Mr. Lilgert said he made some small course alterations, as a squall came up and smaller ships were in the area, but could not explain how the Queen of the North ran into Gil Island. Both Mr. Lilgert and Ms. Briker denied that anything untoward went on between them as the ferry headed toward the island.

Urging Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein to send Mr. Lilgert to jail for six years, prosecutor Bob Wright said severe punishment was needed for a professional mariner who showed "a dereliction of duty" while entrusted with the lives of 101 passengers and crew.

He said Mr. Lilgert told lies on the witness stand, accusing him of not taking responsibility for the sinking or showing genuine remorse.

Speaking outside the courthouse, Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie said the sentence was warranted given the fact two lives were lost, and Mr. Lilgert was in a position of trust.

"The lives of the crew and passengers were in his hands … and there was a  significant degree of negligence involved," Mr. MacKenzie said.

Mr. Orris lashed out at the length of time it has taken to settle Mr. Lilgert's criminal culpability

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"Charges were not laid until four years after the accident, and it's now resolved, seven years later. That is unprecedented in these courts," said Mr. Orris. "He's been living with this for seven years."

He rejected the Crown's contention that Mr. Lilgert had demonstrated dereliction of duty. "What we're dealing with is errors in judgement."

A jury found Mr. Lilgert guilty last month, after deliberating for six days.

Mr. Orris has launched an appeal of the verdict, questioning some aspects of the judge's address to the jury.

With a report from Canadian Press

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