WorkSafeBC investigators declined an offer, in the fall of 2012, to view forensic investigative materials regarding the Lakeland Mills explosion collected by CASE Forensic, a coroner’s inquest heard Wednesday.
That revelation, and the fact the material from that investigation conducted by Lakeland Mills’ lawyers, was not provided to the inquest at the outset, prompted Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe to adjourn the inquest, now into its fourth week.
“I’m significantly disappointed,” she said Wednesday while admonishing counsel for both Lakeland Mills and WorkSafeBC. “… You don’t get to filter information. As a participant, you have a bigger responsibility. You have a responsibility to bring it forward and I will determine whether it’s relevant … It’s not up to the people with an interest to decide what is important. An inquest is about finding the truth.”
Glenn Roche and Alan Little died as a result of the April 23, 2012 explosion and fire and 22 other workers were injured.
The matter surfaced last week when it was discovered that the CASE Forensic material existed, even though a Lakeland Mills investigator was one of many who toured the mill with the initial WorkSafeBC investigator in 2012.
Coroner’s counsel John Orr said Wednesday that an e-mail thread, provided by Lakeland Mills counsel Gavin Marshall shows the material from CASE Forensics was offered to WorkSafeBC before the WorkSafeBC final report was completed.
“WorkSafeBC declined,” he said. “It raises the question behind the process of the WorkSafeBC investigation and the conclusions it reached.”
WorkSafeBC has not yet commented on the revelation, saying it is in the process of preparing a statement.
On Friday, Lapointe ruled the information in the CASE Forensics report was vital to the inquest, but fell under the solicitor/client privilege and asked Lakeland Mills to waive that privilege. On Monday, however, she rescinded that ruling, stating it was not protected by solicitor/client privilege. Lakeland had already decided to waive the solicitor/client privilege.
Orr added he was concerned that the information was not shared with coroner’s counsel prior to the inquest. He added he needed time to study the CASE Forensics material and determine what impact, if any, it would have on the WorkSafeBC report.
Orr also suggested that former WorkSafeBC CEO David Anderson testify at the inquest as to why the offer to share information was rejected. WorkSafeBC vice-presidents Al Johnson and Ian Munroe are still scheduled to testify.
Greg Stewart, CEO of Lakeland Mills’ parent company Sinclar Group, said he was disappointed with the adjournment.
“We had hoped that this would be completed by the end of the week and we had some feeling that there was possibly a solution that we could work on, but unfortunately that wasn’t an option today,” he said.
Stewart spent the entire morning on the witness stand at the inquest and declined to comment specifically on issue that forced the adjournment.
“This has been a long, long process,” he said. “The real victims of this adjournment are the families and employees that have suffered for three years.”
There has been no date set for the inquest to reconvene, however Orr said it could a few weeks. He added he was hopeful it won’t impact the inquest into the Babine Forest Products sawmill explosion and fire. That inquest is set to start in Burns Lake in July.