Friday, 4 May 2007

BC Ferries acts - at last

The Globe and Mail is now reporting that the three BC Ferry workers who were on the bridge at the time the Queen of the North hit an island and later sank have been fired.

On the advice of union lawyers, Mr. Hilton and Mr. Lilgert earlier refused to answer questions by company investigators about what happened in the final, crucial 14 minutes leading up to the crash. Ms. Bricker did answer some questions about that period but investigators found many of her answers suspect.

Their refusal to provide information is the thing that most people, I think, had the hardest time dealing with. It stems from the quite reasonable fear that they could be sued by those who suffered loss in the sinking. So on the face of it, their refusal to speak is understandable. But they could not refuse to answer questions from the Transportation Safety Board. That report is apparently finished but has yet to be published.

Accidents happen, and it is important that we all understand why they happen so that they do not happen again. Fear of litigation should be put aside in the interests of the safety of all. If necessary, by giving immunity to those who give evidence. The compensation for victims can come from public funds or insurance - depending on how responsibility is allocated. But individuals while they can be held to account (and in losing their jobs these three seem to have paid the price) should not be held to risk ruin in civil suits that can drag on interminably and only serve to enrich lawyers. We must avoid getting ourselves enmeshed the the compensation culture that contingency fees and jury awarded damages have bred south of the 49th.

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