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Mounties to keep laptops seized in Kelowna crane collapse investigation despite opposition

FILE. A section (left) of the vertical column of a construction crane is lowered past the mangled section of the fallen boom in Kelowna, B.C., Wednesday, July 14, 2021, following a fatal collapse of the crane. RCMP have released a statement marking the first anniversary of a deadly construction crane collapse in that city.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Desmond Murray.

Mounties will be able to keep three laptops they seized as evidence in the aftermath of a fatal crane collapse in Kelowna for one more year, despite some pushback.

The crane collapse killed five people July 12, 2021, and is still the subject of multiple ongoing investigations, including the criminal investigation launched by the RCMP that day.

Read more: Moment of remembrance planned for Kelowna crane collapse victims

In a decision posted online Wednesday, Madam Justice Briana Hardwick explained that RCMP had to apply to the courts to keep the 112 pieces of evidence they collected for any period longer than a year. Stemmer Construction, the company contracted by Mission Group to operate the crane, however, opposed the move and applied to get three laptop computers returned.

“… It is the contents of those three digital devices that are at issue,” Hardwick said in the court decision, noting that the investigation is complicated.

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“They were provided to the RCMP by employees of (Stemmer) very shortly after the investigation commenced. They were then searched, pursuant to a warrant.”

READ MORE: New cranes being erected at site of fatal crane collapse in Kelowna

Stemmer, as the owner of one of the items seized, was the only one allowed to oppose the RCMP application and did so, asking to have the data returned, noting that it should have been listed in the seizure items as a “thing” and that copies of that data engage the accused’s privacy rights.

Stemmer asserted that the “data” from the three laptops is not sitting idle, but instead remains in active use by the RCMP. This, in effect, allows the RCMP to search the data without reporting the fruit of the search to the application respondent,” reads the decision.

Hardwick opted to steer clear of the argument about the lawfulness of seized data and said that the issue should be dealt with in a separate court application.

READ MORE: Former Manitoban killed in Kelowna, B.C. crane collapse

She also rejected the argument that investigators were negligent by breaching their reporting obligations, allowing for the items to stay in the possession of the police.

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The victims of the crane collapse were Cailen Vilness, Jared Zook, and Patrick and Eric Stemmer who worked on the crane,as well as and Brad Zawislak, who worked at a building adjacent to the construction site.

Click to play video: 'Families of the men killed in a crane collapse speak on the first anniversary of the catastrophic incident'
Families of the men killed in a crane collapse speak on the first anniversary of the catastrophic incident

While there’s no timeline on the RCMP investigation WorkSafe BC has said that their investigation is nearing its end despite its complexity.

Jessica Berglund, director of occupational health and safety investigations with WorkSafeBC said in July that after the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge, the crane collapse is considered to be the second largest workplace accident in B.C. history due to the number of workers who were killed.

It also required a lot of witness interviews, and mechanical equipment inspections.

“We’re very close to being completed,” she said. “We’re currently waiting for some final pieces of evidence that we cannot conclude our report or investigation without having those pieces of evidence. So that is what we’re waiting for.”

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