BC Fed calls for reform after failed Kiewit prosecution

Journal of Commerce | DCN-JOC News Services | September 7, 2021

VANCOUVER – The BC Federation of Labour (BC Fed) is calling for reform after the BC Prosecution Service’s case against Kiewit collapsed just days before trial.

The Crown cited differences between experts and the changing testimony of witnesses as reasons why it did not believe it could secure a conviction 12 years after the death of 24-year-old worker Sam Fitzpatrick.

BC Fed President Laird Cronk said the decision by the BC Prosecution Service represents a profound failure of the criminal justice system for workers and their families everywhere.

“Justice delayed is justice denied, and the unconscionable delays, insufficient resources and organizational breakdowns in investigating Sam Fitzpatrick’s death have compounded tragedy upon tragedy,” Cronk said in a press release. “A system that can’t effectively investigate and prosecute negligent employers endangers workers across the province.”

The BC Prosecution Service announced it is staying criminal negligence proceedings against Kiewit and its managers for the death of Fitzpatrick on a hydroelectric project site. Cronk said the decision shows just how many barriers workers face in seeking justice for health and safety violations.

Cronk cited the 2004 federal Westray Law, section 217.1 of the Criminal Code, which holds employers criminally liable for safety violations that cause a worker’s injury or death.

“Without timely investigation and charges, the Westray Law’s penalties are meaningless,” said Cronk. “The message to negligent employers should be ‘Kill a worker, go to jail,’ not ‘Just wait it out.’”

Kiewit has always maintained they disagreed with the charges and expressed relief the process was over, agreeing with the Crown’s decision.

“Today’s decision by the British Columbia Prosecution Service marks the conclusion of a long, difficult chapter for our company and our people – and also, in particular, the family and friends of Sam Fitzpatrick who lost his life in a tragic accident on the Plutonic Power Hydroelectric Project nearly 13 years ago,” said Bob Kula, vice-president corporate communications for Kiewit, in a statement to the Journal of Commerce. “For Kiewit, Sam has always been at the heart of this matter, and we continue to offer our sincerest condolences to his family, friends, and those who worked with him for their loss.”

Cronk applauded the work the United Steelworkers District 3 has done in pressing for justice in the case. And he acknowledged there have been important improvements to the process for criminal investigations of workplace fatalities in the 12 years between Sam Fitzpatrick’s death and the Crown’s decision.

“We’re still a long way from where we need to be,” he said. “B.C. has a moral imperative to treat criminal negligence that threatens worker safety with the same urgency and resources as other types of crime involving loss of life.”

Cronk called on B.C. officials to enact three changes that BC Fed has long advocated for:

  • Dedicating a Crown prosecutor to deal with workplace fatalities and serious injuries;
  • training police services throughout B.C. on the Westray Law’s provisions; and
  • making police investigations mandatory in all workplace fatalities and serious injuries.

“Our system failed Sam Fitzpatrick and his family. But we still have the chance to have some good come out of this,” Cronk said. “I hope this spurs our province to take these tangible, real steps to ensure safer workplaces and hold businesses accountable throughout BC.”