TABLE OF CONTENTS Jul 2008 - 0 comments

Missing tree planter prompts call for inquest

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By: Jason Contant

2008-07-01

WHITE RIVER, ONT.

Two opposition politicians are urging Ontario's Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) to launch a coroner's inquest into a tree planter's disappearance near a northern Ontario forest more than two years ago.

In April, Progressive Conservative MPP Frank Klees and New Democrat justice critic Peter Kormos made the demand in the Ontario legislature. "I'm not suggesting there ever will be an explanation, but what I do expect is we undertake the full investigation to answer a lot of these unanswered questions," Klees said in a subsequent interview. "If nothing else, to ensure a similar situation doesn't happen again."

On the afternoon of May 15, 2006, following a dispute with his supervisor, Aju Iroaga, 26, quit his job at a remote work site 66 kilometres north of White River, Ontario. After refusing to sit in a supervisor's truck or wait on a bus that would take Iroaga back to town, the A&M Reforestation employee was instructed to stand at a designated location.

Three co-workers checked on him every 15 or 20 minutes and he remained at the specified location for about four hours, reports Paul Thususka, owner and general manager of A&M Reforestation. When co-workers drove by at about 4:10 pm, "he was gone, no longer seen," Thususka says.

Following a search, the company notified police. Members of the Superior East detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), using a helicopter and a canine unit, conducted air and ground searches the next morning. The search was called off a week later when Iroaga could not be found.

"My concern with the OPP investigation is that it is passive," Klees said in the legislature on April 21. After a meeting with Iroaga's father, the MPP demanded an inquest and a probe by Ontario's Ministry of Labour (MOL).

MOL spokesperson Bruce Skeaff says a ministry investigation into the incident is under way and the OPP remains involved in the case. A variety of factors add complexity to the investigation, including whether the worker was on private or Crown land, and whether or not he was still considered an employee since he had quit.

MCSCS spokesperson Anthony Brown notes that a coroner is investigating the disappearance. It is not yet clear when that review will be completed, says Brown, adding that, until it is, "the question of an inquest does not arise."



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