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No charges in Burns Lake sawmill blast

Nearly two years after an explosion and fire tore through a British Columbia sawmill leaving two workers dead, the Crown announced there will be no charges, pointing a finger at a questionable investigation by the province's worker safety agency.

The manner of the investigation by WorkSafeBC left significant evidence in the fatal January 2012 fire at Babine Forest Products inadmissible in court, the Criminal Justice Branch said Friday.

"Notwithstanding that fact, Crown Counsel was satisfied that the remainder of the available and admissible evidence provides a sufficient factual underpinning for a number of potential offences under provincial legislation," said a statement from the branch.

But no criminal or regulatory charges will be laid based on the report WorkSafeBC submitted in September.

The concerns raised by the branch include the failure to obtain search warrants and the failure to inform witnesses of their charter rights before taking statements.

"Based on the evidence that would likely be available for presentation by Crown Counsel in court, the branch has concluded that there is no substantial likelihood of conviction for any of the regulatory offences recommended by WorkSafeBC," the statement said.

The assessment found there would be a viable defence of due diligence.

Trieu Nguyen, who works at the mill, said a meeting with the Crown and WorkSafe officials on Friday was "intense."

"Lot of people were crying, lots of people mad," said Nguyen, whose brother was badly injured in the fire and no longer works at the sawmill.

"WCB did their job but Crown counsel wouldn't take their evidence into court, basically."

Jeff Dolan, director of investigations for the worker safety agency, was not available for interviews but defended the investigation in a statement to families that was posted on the agency's website.

Prior to this investigation, the Crown had approved charges in 31 cases investigated by WorkSafeBC between 1996 and 2010, 24 of which resulted in a conviction, Dolan said.

"Our officers attended the Babine site within hours of the explosion and fire and remained at the site for 13 weeks, conducting one of, if not the largest, scene examination in the history of WorkSafeBC and the province," Dolan said.

He said the investigation report handed to the Crown will be released on Monday.

A series of blasts and an ensuing fire at the mill on Jan. 20, 2012, killed Robert Luggi, 45, and 42-year-old Carl Charlie. Twenty other employees were injured and the mill was destroyed.

A few months later, in April 2012, an explosion at the Lakeland Mills in Prince George, B.C., killed Alan Little, 43 and 46-year-old Glenn Roche.

The Canadian Press

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