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Labour union pursue criminal charges after B.C. worker's death

By COS staff
| www.cos-mag.com

The United Steelworkers (USW) has launched a private prosecution against Weyerhaeuser Company Ltd. last week, claiming that the British Columbia-based firm was criminally negligent in the death of 55-year-old sawmill worker, Lyle Hewer, on November 17, 2004.

Acting on behalf of the USW, lawyer Glen Orris filed an information before a justice of the peace under Section 504 of the [a href="http://www.cos-mag.com/200805281366/legal/legal-columns/bill-c-45-questions-get-answered.html" target="_blank"]Criminal Code.

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According to a press statement issued by the USW, the charge is based on an allegation that Hewer died as a result of injuries incurred at Weyerhaeuser's New West Division sawmill, after following a supervisor's request to work under conditions the employer knew were hazardous. Hewer was trapped and asphyxiated by debris in the hog — a machine that converts wood waste to chips. Hewer was taken to the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster where he succumbed to his injuries.

The USW alleges that “the company was criminally negligent in Hewer's death by omitting to do anything that it was their responsibility to do, and showed wanton, or reckless disregard for the lives, or safety of other persons.” The USW also claims that Hewer died as a result of the company's inaction, while clearing out a hog under Weyerhaeuser's direction.

The private prosecution was launched after Crown counsel “rejected the recommendation” of the New Westminster Police that a charge of criminal negligence causing death was warranted against Weyerhaeuser, USW Western Canada district director Stephen Hunt said. "Therefore, we have been left with no alternative other than pursuing a private prosecution to see that justice is done."

"It is our view that this case must go to trial under the 2004 Westray amendments to the Criminal Code and that the evidence will show that the company is criminally responsible for Lyle Hewer's death. Weyerhaeuser must be held accountable if convicted," said Hunt.

The 2004 Westray amendments to the Criminal Code — also know as Bill C-45 — impose criminal penalties on corporations and corporate executives and directors for occupational health and safety-related violations.

In March 2007, WorkSafe BC imposed a $297,000-penalty against Weyerhaeuser relating to Hewer’s death. It was the highest fine WorkSafe BC has ever levied against an employer, USW noted.

Orris expects that a court date will be set shortly for a "process hearing" before a provincial court judge who has the authority to issue a summons against Weyerhaeuser, USW said.

According to the USW statement, Hewer's surviving family members support the union’s initiative in seeking justice for Hewer’s death.

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