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The Globe and Mail

Regulatory charges recommended for Lakeland Mills explosion

Smoke rises from the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake, B.C. Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012. A fireball levelled the mill, which produces products like framing lumber, just after shift-change Friday evening.


WorkSafeBC has recommended regulatory charges be laid in a second sawmill explosion in 2012 that killed two workers, but it's not clear whether the Crown will agree to lay them.

It's the second time the worker safety agency has recommended regulatory charges in the deaths of sawmill workers killed when dust buildup prompted the separate explosions in 2012. Last month, the Crown announced it would not proceed with the charges in the Burns Lake mill explosion because the WorkSafe investigation there was badly flawed.

Neil MacKenzie, a spokesman for the Criminal Justice Branch, said Friday it is too early to say if the Crown will come to similar conclusions on the report into the Lakeland Mills accident months later in Prince George. That accident also killed two workers.

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"The file I believe was just received Wednesday and I can't say precisely how long it will take the Crown to review it," he said. "But there's a significant amount of material … so it's not something that would be completed in a day or two."

Mr. MacKenzie declined to say what charges or how many charges WorkSafeBC has suggested in the Lakeland case.

"I don't want to go into details or get into a discussion about what recommendations an investigative agency may make," he said. "But I think I should make it clear in this case that what Crown is being asked to consider by WorkSafeBC are possible offences under the Workers Compensation Act and related regulations – not offences under the Criminal Code."

Scott McCloy, a spokesman for WorkSafeBC, also declined to discuss the long-awaited Lakeland mill report.

"We don't have any further comment on it … because that information has been provided to Crown … that information is now owned by them," he said.

The accidents raised questions not only about the safety of B.C. mills, where the processing of trees killed by pine beetles produces explosive dust, but also about the ability of WorkSafeBC to effectively investigate workplace fatalities.

WorkSafeBC had recommended four regulatory charges in the Burns Lake explosion, but the Crown concluded that Charter provisions were not followed and as a result, the chances of a conviction were unlikely. The Crown said investigators failed to obtain search warrants and witnesses had not been informed of their Charter rights.

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Earlier this month, John Dyble, a deputy minister to Premier Christy Clark, was critical of WorkSafeBC for failing to be aware of Supreme Court of Canada rulings that require regulatory investigations, not just criminal ones, be done in accordance with Charter rights.

While Mr. McCloy would not discuss the Lakeland investigation, he did say WorkSafeBC has a report coming soon that deals more broadly with mill inspections in B.C. "We hope it's next week. It's going to be in the very near future. We're just really compiling the data now," he said.

Mr. McCloy also said WorkSafeBC has been working on an agreement with the RCMP and the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police on how the three agencies will co-operate on future investigations.

"We've been working diligently with them to bring them in to a memorandum of understanding," Mr. McCloy said. "We're really just at the stage where we are getting the final signatures and we expect to have that down in the next few weeks."

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