Families frustrated with justice process in Alberta workplace deaths

Click to play video: 'Alberta families of workplace death victims frustrated with path to — or lack of — justice' Alberta families of workplace death victims frustrated with path to — or lack of — justice
Families of people killed while on the job are expressing frustration about how long it takes to find justice for a workplace death in Alberta. As Lisa MacGregor reports, there are concerns about a lack of accountability and information — even after charges are laid. – Mar 9, 2021

More families that have had a loved one killed while on the job are expressing their frustration. They’re sharing concerns about how long it takes to see charges, get information and a lack of accountability.

For most cases in Alberta, it takes two years for the Occupational Health and Safety investigation to conclude if there are charges in a fatal case. Then it can take several more years to go to court if there ends up being a trial.

Maureen Armstrong’s husband Dale Skilnick was killed March 11, 2019 at Grove RV and Leisure, after he was pinned between an RV and tractor. Two years later, his employer is facing 10 charges.

Armstrong was happy to see the charges but she wants someone to be held accountable for his death.

“It’s a little gut wrenching… You’re happy to see that the charges are laid, but it’s hard, it’s really hard to see it written in black and white.

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“Ten is a substantial number of infractions,” Armstrong said.

“He was a father, a husband, a son. We all sit and wait for answers and two years is a really long time to wait to have those answers… It’s a long time from when you lose somebody to being able to get some closure.”

“You’re still sitting and waiting for justice for someone who lost their life,” Armstrong said.

The first court appearance in relation to Skilnick’s case is scheduled for April 7, according to his family.

Read more: Alberta village facing 7 OHS charges after woman killed by falling lawn mower in 2017

But sometimes the case doesn’t make it to trial.

As Global News first reported on Monday, Martina Levick‘s family waited almost four years after her workplace death to find out that charges had been stayed.

READ MORE: Charges stayed in workplace death after Alberta village dissolves

The main reason was because the village of Dewberry, where it happened, had dissolved.

Click to play video: 'Charges stayed in young woman’s workplace death after Alberta village dissolves' Charges stayed in young woman’s workplace death after Alberta village dissolves
Charges stayed in young woman’s workplace death after Alberta village dissolves – Mar 8, 2021

Rob Stewart, an organization incident causation expert, has been involved in workplace death cases for more than a decade. Stewart believes individuals need to be held accountable in cases involving workplaces and companies.

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“We won’t see any change until there is individual accountability on this side, so those senior organizational decision makers that are responsible for making the decisions, the shortcuts that they took that resulted in a serious injury or death,” Stewart said.

“Alberta has some of the largest fines in the country — I think our average fine is around $125,000. For a large organization, that’s really nothing.”

Glen Orris is a criminal lawyer who specializes in legal and practical issues around the investigation and prosecution of wrongdoing related to workplace injuries and death. Orris was stunned by the number of workplace deaths he sees each year in Canada and said change is needed.

“I don’t believe that the people in Canada understand or realize how many people are seriously injured or killed in workplace accidents every year in Canada.

“Sometimes the governments or the powers that be are just not that aggressive about enforcing the appropriate bylaws and regulations and such that govern the workplace.”

READ MORE: Fourth Alberta workplace fatality in 8 days

Orris believes that more training is needed for the people who investigate a workplace death in the first place.

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“If there are more trained people that are able to investigate these offenses, especially in the police departments, then there’s going to be more charges and more people are going to be accountable,” Orris said.

“I’d like the families to be advised as to what’s going on — we’re starting the investigation, this is what we’re looking into, this is what we’re doing, these are the results we’ve got — because they’re the ones that have a real stake in this.”

The Edmonton Police Service (EPS) has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Alberta Ministry of Labour.

Whomever arrives on scene first (usually police) secures the scene and notifies the other entity. The MOU outlines responsibilities for sharing of information and cooperation, but essentially, EPS first determines whether the death is criminal in nature, and if not, Occupational Health and Safety takes over the investigation.

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