Crown stays charges again for death at New West sawmill

The criminal branch of the Ministry of the Attorney General has again recommended staying charges against a company accused of causing the 2004 death of Lyle Hewer, a 55-year-old worker at a sawmill in New Westminster, according to a United Steelworkers (USW) press release.

“Had the Crown proceeded with the case the court would have heard that there was a clear breach of the duty of care imposed on an employer under Section 217.1 of the Criminal Code,” said Stephen Hunt, Western Canadian director of USW.

“This decision is extremely frustrating.”

The USW brought private charges of criminal neglect against the company to the New Westminster Provincial Court on March 22, 2010 after the Crown refused to prosecute Weyerhaeuser Company Ltd.

Following a hearing that began in October 2010, Judge Terese Alexander gave the green light to the prosecution.

“Now, the Crown again is refusing to bring the company to justice, even though the USW took up the case, provided evidence, and Judge Alexander issued process against Weyerhaeuser,” said Hunt.

According to the United Steelworkers’ report, New Westminster police concluded in their initial investigation of the death that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe the death of Hewer could have been caused by neglect on the part of Weyerhaeuser Company Ltd.

Hewer was trapped and asphyxiated when trapped debris from a hopper full of wood waste fell on him. He died nearly 12 hours later at Royal Columbian Hospital.

WorkSafeBC fined the company $297,000 for Hewer’s death in March 2007, the highest ever fine, according to the press release, which quotes WorkSafeBC vice-president Roberta Ellis as saying that “the violations were committed willfully or with reckless disregard.”

Seven years ago, Canada’s Bill C-45 made it possible to prosecute companies for workplace negligence. The new legislation was a response to 26 deaths at the Westray Mine in 1992.

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