Steelworkers petition for public inquiry into sawmill explosions

Union petitioning the B.C. government to hold a public inquiry into the explosions at Babine and Lakeland sawmills.

  • Apr. 27, 2015 4:00 p.m.

Arne Petryshen

Members of the United Steelworkers Union are petitioning the B.C. government to hold a public inquiry into the explosions at Babine and Lakeland sawmills.

Adam Connell is hoping to raise at least 10,000 signatures. At the time of writing the petition has just over 2,200 signatures.

The explosions happened back in 2012. Four people were killed and 44 injured in the two explosions.

“At that time, the families of the people that passed away were promised this to be resolved by the government — to find out the answers of what happened and what can be done to prevent this from happening again.”

Connell said that none of those questions have been answered.

“We’re pushing for a public inquiry because WorkSafe BC failed us, as well as the Coroner’s inquest,” he said.

“It was a disaster to say the least. So without a public inquiry there will never be an answer and there will never be any changes to be made to the sawmills to prevent this from happening in this region.”

Connell is joined by Steven Hunt in the Lower Mainland who is also petitioning for the inquiry. Hunt is the organizer of the petition.

Connell works at Teck Coal in the Elk Valley under United Steelworkers Local 7884. He is currently on a leave of absence to pursue the petition.

Connell said part of his motivation is that something like the sawmill explosions could happen again.

“It could happen today,” he said. “What happened was the accumulation of dust, which is highly flammable in these mills. The workers were complaining about it for months beforehand before anything was done about it.”

The Babine sawmill explosion happened, and then three months later the Lakeland sawmill explosion occurred. The two sawmill safe also close geographically.

“They had that explosion and nothing is done in those three months, they are in the same region, then you have another explosion,” he said. “And still to this day nothing has been done about that.”

Connell said it is about protecting all workers in B.C. and not just union workers.

“There are a lot of these sawmills that we’re going to that are not union, but they’re all welcoming with open arms because they know there’s a problem.”

He said the public support has also been great so far. He plans to tour all over B.C.  and try to visit every sawmill and union hall, as well as small businesses, Canadian Tires and Walmarts.

“They’re all taking me on, taking these pamphlets and getting the signatures,” he said.

The letter portion of the petition reads:

“Dear Premier Clark;

When the Babine and Lakeland sawmills exploded, killing four workers, injuring 44 and leaving lasting scars on family and community members, you promised answers to ensure such a tragedy never happened again. It is now clear that only a public inquiry into both sawmill explosions will provide the answers that everyone affected by this horrific event deserves. I ask that you honour your commitment to family members of those who were killed or injured, and all British Columbians, by calling a public inquiry into the Babine and Lakeland sawmill explosions, and the botched investigations by WorksafeBC.”

It can be found at inquiry-usw.nationbuilder.com.

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