On December 14, 2017, three of our members, Powerline Technicians, Darcy Jansen, Kyle Shorrock and Jeffrey Howes, were killed in a helicopter crash along with the Pilot James Barager. The helicopter was being used to transport Darcy, Kyle and Jeffrey to and from the transmission towers on a site near Tweed. An airstair platform was attached to the helicopter but it was not being used as a work platform that day. Following an investigation, the Transport Safety Board concluded that an empty nose bag flew off the airstair platform striking the tail rotor of the helicopter. The tail rotor separated from the helicopter. It became uncontrollable and crashed near the staging area. The Transportation Safety Board (TSB), the Ministry of Labour (MOL), the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and Hydro One all investigated the accident. No charges were filed in connection with the accident. The TSB released its investigation report on October 30, 2019.
It is mandatory for the coroner to conduct an inquest whenever a worked is killed at a construction site. A coroner’s inquest into this accident is scheduled to begin on June 5, 2023.
The coroner’s inquest was originally expected to take place in September of 2020. The inquest was delayed due to scheduling conflicts and a challenge over the production of records. The governing legislation of the TSB designates certain parts of the TSB’s investigative file as confidential or “privileged”. The coroner may require the TSB to produce privileged records but the coroner must first engage in a detailed legal analysis weighing various considerations. Several parties were seeking production of privileged TSB records including an on-board recording and witness statements. The coroner ruled that the TSB had to disclose certain information to the parties about the records that they wanted produced so the parties could make legal submissions. The TSB disagreed with the coroner’s ruling and applied to the Divisional Court for judicial review. The Divisional Court held that it was unreasonable for the coroner to require the TSB to disclose information about their records prior to the coroner engaging in the detailed analysis required by the legislation. The coroner then implemented a revised procedure for seeking production of documents. After reviewing submissions from the parties, the coroner ultimately decided not to require the TSB to produce the on-board recording or witness statements. The Inquest would likely have been delayed even if this dispute over privileged records had not arisen, as all inquests were suspended for months during the pandemic due to concerns about the spread of Covid 19.
An inquest is a public hearing conducted by a coroner before a jury of five community members. The purpose of a coroner’s inquest is to focus public attention on the circumstances of the death and to elicit recommendations to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again. It is important to note that an inquest is not an adversarial process and it is not intended to assign blame.
A coroner presides over the inquest. The coroner is represented by a crown attorney who acts as counsel to the coroner. Persons with a substantial and direct interest in the inquest may apply for standing, i.e. permission to participate in the inquest. Parties with standing may be represented by lawyers who can question witnesses and make submissions. CUSW has been granted standing to participate in this inquest and has assigned Carolyn Hart as CUSW’s lawyer. Carolyn will get instructions and advice from a committee of members consisting of Dustin Maurice, Steve McKellar, Mike McManus, David Aviles, Calvin Hicks, Chad Guindon and John Wabb
A jury of five persons will be selected, by a police officer assigned to the coroner’s office, from the community jury pool. The jury will be charged with answering the following questions:
Who was the deceased?
Where did the death occur?
When did the death occur?
How did the death occur (i.e. the medical cause)?
By what means did the death occur (one of: natural causes, accident, homicide, suicide or undetermined)?
Witnesses with relevant evidence will be summoned to attend the inquest. They must swear an oath or affirm that they will tell the truth. The parties may question the witnesses. Jury members can also question witnesses.
Once all the evidence has been presented, the lawyers will have an opportunity to address the jury. The lawyers may comment on the evidence and suggest recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths. The jury will then retire to consider the evidence and render a verdict. The jury must answer the five questions listed above. The jury can neither assign blame for the deaths nor absolve anyone of blame. The jury may make recommendations but they are not required to do so. If the jury does make recommendations, the coroner will follow up one year after the inquest and post an update on its website concerning the implementation of those recommendations.
Inquests are open to the public and the media. This particular inquest will be held using a virtual platform such as Zoom. The coroner and the jury will appear on camera throughout the proceedings. Witnesses will appear on camera when they are testifying and lawyers will appear on camera when they are speaking. The proceeding will be livestreamed; however, it will not be recorded.