Steelworkers allowed to launch legal action

Weyerhaeuser to face criminal charges for worker's death

A provincial court judge in British Columbia is allowing the United Steelworkers to launch a legal action against forestry giant Weyerhaeuser in the 2004 death of a worker, according to media reports. Lyle Hewer died at Weyerhaeuser’s sawmill in New Westminster, B.C., in November 2004, eight months after an amendment to the Criminal Code that holds organizations criminally responsible for workplace fatalities came into effect.

Frustrated by the Crown counsel’s refusal to prosecute Weyerhaeuser for the death, the steelworkers’ union launched a private prosecution against the company in early 2010, alleging it was criminally negligent in the death of.

While no one told Hewer to enter the hopper, he was told to clear a clog and it was common practice to enter the machine to do so, despite the safety risks, found a WorkSafeBC investigation. Management knew about the hazards of the hopper and hog but did nothing about it, which demonstrated a wilful and reckless violation of health and safety regulations, found the investigation.

WorkSafeBC fined the company $297,000, the highest fine it ever levied, and New Westminster police recommended charges be laid under the Criminal Code amendment known as Bill C-45 or the corporate killing law. But the Crown counsel didn’t lay charges, saying there wasn’t enough evidence for a conviction.

The recent decision by Judge Terese Alexander will allow the Crown or a private prosecutor to pursue charges of criminal negligence against Weyerhaeuser.

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