Bear mauling charges stayed

A one-year legal mauling has ended for Yellowknife-based mining firm Aurora Geosciences. Charges alleging unsafe workplace practices and inadequate…

A one-year legal mauling has ended for Yellowknife-based mining firm Aurora Geosciences.

Charges alleging unsafe workplace practices and inadequate training laid by the Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board have been stayed, prosecutors announced on Tuesday.

Initially, the board laid six charges against the company after Aurora employee Jean-Francois Pagé was mauled to death by a bear on April 26, 2008.

The board alleged it had not provided Pagé with adequate knowledge, equipment, training or direction.

Pagé died after he accidentally walked into a bear den while staking a claim near Ross River.

In November, four of the charges were stayed on the grounds of redundancy and overlap with other charges.

The remaining two accused Aurora with failing to ensure safe work procedures and failure to provide necessary instruction and supervision.

Tuesday’s announcement stated that the last two charges were stayed on the grounds of “new information.”

“They just dragged this company through the mud for two years and couldn’t prove their case,” said Liberal spokesperson Jason Cunning.

Cunning called the new information a “phony excuse.”

The fact that they won’t release it publicly only confirms the flimsiness of the original case, he said.

The introduction of new information by the prosecution requires it to be disclosed to the defendant in a timely fashion. That could have delayed the trial until fall.

It wasn’t fair for the defendant, nor was it in the public interest for the case to drag on longer, said Thomas Ullyet, an assistant deputy minister of Justice.

The Yukon Chamber of Mines is pleased to see the debacle end.

“Why didn’t they drop it sooner?” said chamber president Carl Schulze. “It’s not a bad bet to assume that they weren’t able to proceed due to lack of evidence — but that’s speculation.”

The process has been lengthy.

The employee died in April 2006. Charges were laid a year later — two days short of the safety board deadline to file a charge.

Formal court proceedings have been ongoing for about a year.

From the beginning, the chamber of mines opposed the charges.

“We don’t want to be at war with WCB, we just oppose an unreasonable level of charges and heavy-handedness placed against a private operator,” said Schulze.

“There’s no one in the industry who thinks that bear death could have been prevented — absolutely no one.

“Occasionally, there are situations that are unpreventable.”

Had the charges been successfully prosecuted, it would “have set a precedent that would have been unattainable by anybody,” said Schulze.

“Aurora Geosciences was never a company that was negligent by any means,” he added.

Three months after Pagé’s death, Yukon Geological Survey employee Geoffrey Bradshaw was killed after being struck by the blade of a descending helicopter.

The safety board ordered a government-wide safety audit, but did not lay any charges against Yukon Geological Survey.