The province’s response to a woman dying at Murtle Lake after a tree fell and crushed her tent has been beyond inadequate.
Alice Bernice Gilbert’s camping trip in Well’s Gray Park should not have come to a fatal end Aug. 16, especially since a similar incident occurred less than two weeks before.
Cathy Turnbull Spence raised the alarm when a tree crashed down on two tents and a canoe at the site Aug. 4. There were seven kids in the tents who managed to run for safety and the tree landed within centimetres of the Kamloops resident’s tent.
Which should have given the Ministry of Environment plenty of time to address the danger.
Emailed correspondence from the ministry — which is all we received — stated the area was assessed for danger trees “very recently following a significant windstorm event.”
Whether this was the storm Turnbull Spence described, we can’t say — repeated requests for answers from the ministry produced a three-bullet response, including condolences to the family.
I’m sure the Kaslo woman’s family takes great comfort in this statement, which was requested to be attributed to the Ministry of Environment, not an actual spokesperson and certainly not the minister herself.
It’s a strategy employed more and more frequently by large companies. They don’t call back by press time, content to let the story simply say the source couldn’t be reached.
Then they write a lengthy letter to the editor that outlines their position with no interference from a pesky reporter who might ask questions beyond what they want to answer.
Big companies might be able to get away with this tactic but those representing government shouldn’t be allowed to.
News flash: Only people can speak. A ministry is not a person.
When a death occurs, the minister herself should be expressing condolences, not “the ministry” via an eight-sentence email.
I’ll concede our first efforts to speak with the minister were unsuccessful as she was on holiday. But after a death in a provincial park, we — on behalf of the public — expect to hear something from a live human.
So many questions remain unanswered. When was the “very recent” inspection? If it wasn’t deemed necessary to post signs warning people of the danger after the first incident, wouldn’t the fatality warrant it now?
Was the campground closed for any period of time since the trees fell in these two incidents?
If the tree that killed Gilbert was healthy, as the ministry asserts, and thus its fall “not predictable,” doesn’t that mean there’s the potential of continued danger? After all, while she’s not an expert, Turnbull Spence said the tree that fell near them was also a live one.
As far as we’ve heard, the campground continues to be open with the only warning
buried on the B.C. Parks’ website that there are dead trees present from pine beetle kill.
Communication on this tragedy has been handled terribly. Minister Mary Polak should have responded instead of “the ministry” providing limited answers via email to media questions.
Perhaps the hope is by saying as little as possible, the issue will fade away, as all stories eventually do.
That’s not good enough, not by a long shot.