The United Steelworkers Union is launching an internal national campaign to privately prosecute Craigmont Mine for the death of worker John Wilson five years ago.
But if historical precedent is any indication, their chances look slim, according to a Thompson Rivers University law professor.
The union is livid that the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch decided earlier this month not to pursue charges against the mine related to the 2008 death of 60-year-old worker John Wilson.
“We believe it should be in court,” said Richard Boyce, USW Local 7619 president. “We believe that Craigmont should be tried based on the fact that had they done some things differently, John Wilson would still be alive today.”
Wilson drowned after his excavator overturned into a sump filled with water at the Craigmont Mine near Merritt.
A report by inspectors for the Ministry of Mines points to several faults on the part of the mine manager.
Among the failings were that a bush guard covering the roof and front windshield hindered rescue efforts, emergency response was ineffective because workers were not suitably trained and Wilson received inadequate direction.
Despite fighting hard to be part of the investigation process, which also involved RCMP, the B.C. Coroner Service and the company itself, the union was shut out.
“The ministry didn’t want us, I guess, turning up the heat when it came to what we believed should take place here,” said Boyce.
Nevertheless, he said, the findings should’ve added up to charges being laid.
“Because the Crown and the RCMP haven’t done it, we have to put together everything to determine whether or not we can legitimize taking this to the next stage.”
The union’s district office in Vancouver as well as the head office in Toronto is getting involved in the legal campaign that could cost the organization $1 million or more, said Boyce.
One legal expert is leery about their chances, however. TRU law professor Micah Rankin said that private prosecutions rarely go ahead and when they do, they’re not privately tried.
“The attorney general can come in and either stay charges or, in theory, let it go forward and be prosecuted privately. But to my knowledge that, like, never happens,” he said.
“Usually what happens is if it’s worth pursuing, the attorney will take over the prosecution.”
And adding to the odds stacked against the union is the fact that the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch has already made its decision, said Rankin.
“I think we already have a pretty good idea of what their view of it is, which is that it shouldn’t proceed.”