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First Nation calls for inquiry into deadly B.C. sawmill explosion

Wet’suwet’en ask Premier Christy Clark for an independent inquiry

By Gordon Hoekstra, Vancouver Sun

The Wet’suwet’en First Nation has called on Premier Christy Clark for an inquiry into a deadly sawmill explosion investigation which failed to result in charges.

Some workers and family members of the victims have already endorsed the idea, but this is the first formal request from a First Nation.

A large portion of the workers at the Babine Forest Products mill in the north central-B.C. community of Burns Lake were First Nations, including Wet’suwet’en.

In an open letter to Clark dated Jan. 29, Wet’suwet’en chief Karen Ogen and councillors Janice Nooski and Sharon Turner ask for a “public independent inquiry into the failed management of the WorkSafeBC investigation” into the explosion.

The wood dust-fuelled blast on Jan. 20, 2012 killed Robert Luggi Jr., 45, and Carl Charlie, 42, and injured 20 more workers. Luggi’s wife is a member of the Wet’suwet’en.

Ogen said the families and workers are looking for justice and closure.

“Two lives have been lost here, and we just can’t gloss it over. Two years have gone by, and our families still continue to be re-traumatized,” Ogen said in an interview Thursday.

She said the inquiry needs to be overseen by someone outside the investigation and court-decision process, and should have sweeping powers to interview those involved.

In announcing its decision Jan. 10 not to lay charges, the Crown said some evidence would likely not be admissible in court because WorkSafeBC investigators had not used search warrants or warned those they interviewed of their charter rights to remain silent. The Crown also noted the mill owners would likely have had a good argument of due diligence.

WorkSafeBC responded that it had conducted its investigation in a similar fashion for two decades, a system that had netted both charges and convictions in court.

The demand for an inquiry was first floated by NDP opposition leader Adrian Dix.

Clark has ordered an “urgent” review by her deputy minister of the investigation process and Crown decision, but it falls short of the inquiry demand.

In an email statement, Jobs Minister Shirley Bond, responsible for WorkSafeBC, said the review ordered by the premier will help get to “the facts” to understand what happened.

Bond also noted Thursday that a coroner’s inquest has been called into the two deaths at the Burns Lake sawmill.

“If there are lessons to be learned to make sure this doesn’t happen again, we will learn them,” she said in the email.

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