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Alberta RCMP reviewing whether COVID-19 death of Cargill meat plant worker was criminal

Click to play video: 'Family complaint triggers RCMP investigation into COVID-19 death of Cargill worker' Family complaint triggers RCMP investigation into COVID-19 death of Cargill worker
WATCH: A heartbroken High River family has formally asked authorities to launch a criminal investigation into the death of their father. He was one of the three COVID-19 deaths linked to the Cargill meat-processing plant. As Jill Croteau reports, this is the first case involving a workplace fatality caused by COVID-19 – Jan 11, 2021

RCMP in Alberta are reviewing whether the COVID-19 death of a worker at a Cargill Ltd. meat-packing plant last spring is a criminal matter.

Read more: 2nd Cargill employee to die from COVID-19 ‘humble, gentle family man’

One of the worker’s family members dropped off an information package at the RCMP’s High River detachment south of Calgary last week, media relations officer Cpl. Tammy Keibel said Monday.

Keibel said the Foothills County RCMP and the southern Alberta district’s general investigations section are looking into “what, if any, criminality is associated with that incident.”

Benito Quesada is seen in an undated handout photo. Quesada, 51, was a union shop steward at the High River, Alta., plant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401.
Benito Quesada is seen in an undated handout photo. Quesada, 51, was a union shop steward at the High River, Alta., plant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 said in a statement that Benito Quesada’s family took a courageous step by asking police to investigate Cargill for criminal negligence.

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Quesada, a 51-year-old shop steward with the union, was one of two workers at Cargill’s beef plant near High River to die from COVID-19 when the virus infected nearly half of 2,200 employees last spring.

He became sick in April and died May 7. His union colleagues said he was a quiet, gentle and humble man who came to Canada from Mexico to work for Cargill.

“As a union shop steward, Benito stood up for his co-workers every day. The best way we can honour Benito is to stand by his family as they stand up for him.”

Read more: Widow and children of Cargill worker who died from COVID-19 share heartbreak

Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan said the company hadn’t seen the complaint or been contacted by the RCMP, so he couldn’t comment.

“I can share that at Cargill the safety of our employees is our top priority,” he said in an emailed statement.

“Maintaining a safe workplace has long been one of our core values and we recognize that the well-being of our plant employees is integral to our business and to the continuity of the food supply chain throughout Canada.”

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Cargill has worked with health authorities to add pandemic safety measures that were approved by Alberta Health Services and Occupational Health and Safety, Sullivan added.

A class-action lawsuit filed against Cargill last summer alleges the company failed to take reasonable precautions to protect its workers. The allegations have not been proven in court.

The High River plant processes about 4,500 head of cattle a day, more than one-third of Canada’s beef-packing capacity.

Cargill Ltd. is a subsidiary of U.S.-based Cargill Inc., one of the largest privately owned corporations in the United States by revenue.

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