Injured mill worker Dirk Weissbach and his wife Kathleen (left) and NDP leader Adrian Dix (right) listen as Maureen Luggi speaks to reporters about the death of her husband Robert at Babine Forest Products sawmill in Burns Lake in 2012.

Mill fire families demand justice

Widows, injured workers and relatives back NDP call for an independent inquiry into two explosions of dry dust in northern sawmills

VICTORIA – Survivors and relatives of those killed in a pair of sawmill explosions in northern B.C. came to the B.C. legislature Thursday to back calls for an independent inquiry into the disasters and how they were investigated.

Among the visitors was Maureen Luggi, a former chief of the Lake Babine First Nation, and her son Robert Luggi Jr. Her husband Robert and her second cousin Carl Charlie were both killed in the explosion in January 2012 at the Babine Forest Products sawmill in Burns Lake.

Both Maureen Luggi and Dirk Weissbach, who was also working on that evening shift and was one of 20 workers injured, questioned why the mill continued to operate as the temperature fell to below -40. Water lines were frozen and vent fans used to clear dust from the dry wood were turned off to keep heat in the building.

Maureen Luggi said she has reviewed the WorkSafeBC report, the Crown prosecutor decision not to lay criminal charges and a follow-up report by John Dyble, Premier Christy Clark’s deputy minister, which looked at problems with evidence gathering by WorkSafeBC investigators.

“Our families will never be the same,” she said. “I would like justice, I want transparency, I want accountability. All of this evidence that the Crown looked at, I want to know what’s in it.”

With family members in the public gallery, Clark took questions from NDP leader Adrian Dix in the legislature.

“My view is that in order to make sure this never happens again, we need to get on with fixing the problems that exist at WorkSafeBC,” Clark said. “We need to do it now.”

Dix told the legislature that two years after the fatal explosions in Burns Lake and at Lakeland Mills in Prince George, 42 per cent of mills inspected have continued to show non-compliance with dust control measures.

A coroner’s inquest is scheduled for this fall into the Burns Lake incident. Prosecutors have not yet decided on whether to lay charges in the Lakeland explosion, which also killed two workers and injured 22 more in April 2012.

 

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