OHS Canada Magazine

Federal gov’t looks to block Yukon inquest

May 8, 2012

Health & Safety Workplace accident -- fatality

FEDERAL (Canadian OH&S News)

FEDERAL (Canadian OH&S News)

The Attorney General of Canada has filed an application to block a scheduled inquest into the death of a Yukon RCMP officer in the summer of 2010, citing jurisdictional issues.

The five-day inquest into the death of Constable Michael Potvin, 26, was initially scheduled to begin on May 14, says Yukon chief coroner Sharon Hanley. Instead, on or around May 17, Judge Karen Ruddy of the Territorial Court of Yukon — who is acting as coroner — is expected to hear the application, Hanley says.

On July 13, 2010, Potvin and Corporal Brent Chapman of the Mayo RCMP detachment were conducting a short patrol of the Stewart River to test the performance of a 5.5-metre flat-bottom aluminum boat, which had not been in the water since the fall of 2009, when it capsized, says the application. Chapman remained with the boat and was rescued just prior to the boat running aground, but Potvin left the vessel as it capsized and began swimming towards the shore.

He was last seen swimming about nine metres from shore, but then disappeared under the water. His body was found about two weeks later, approximately 58 kilometres downstream.


Although both members had been wearing RCMP-approved personal flotation devices (PFD) during the first run of the boat, neither was wearing a PFD during the fourth run, when the boat capsized.

In its application, the Attorney General argues that the inquest should not proceed because its purposes have already been served by the seven investigations into the incident, including those from the RCMP, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

“The purposes of the inquest have already been served through the multiple investigations into the circumstances surrounding the death and the resulting directions, orders and recommendations that have been addressed by the RCMP,” the application says. “Any public education about water and boat safety can be better accomplished through a public safety campaign.”

Furthermore, the jury in a coroner’s inquest in the territory is not authorized by statute or regulation to make recommendations, only to issue a verdict identifying the deceased and when, where and how the death occurred. While recommendations have been a historical practice, there is no regulatory authority to do so, the application argues, adding that Canadian territories do not have the constitutional status of provinces and remain creatures of the federal government.

Broad  inquest  will  encroach  on  federal  jurisdiction

“An examination of the broader circumstances surrounding the death will encroach improperly on the exclusive federal jurisdiction of the RCMP over its administration, operation and management,” the application says.

Since the incident, the RCMP has made changes to its safety practices on and around water, both locally and nationally, says David Gilbert, director of organizational strategy with the RCMP’s M Division, which represents Yukon. Among others, these steps include the following:

— Requiring employees in the Mayo RCMP detachment to wear suitable PFDs whenever they are near or on waterways;

— Confirming that members in non-supervisory roles are required to take Canada Labour Code Part II awareness training — including an orientation of, and training about, conditions and hazards of the Stewart River — and that this training had been received by members of the Mayo detachment;

— Removing the boat involved in the incident from service across the country;

— Instituting a ‘basic water transport coordinator’ position at the M Division and identification at each detachment of such a coordinator;

— Developing guidelines to assist RCMP divisions in conducting thorough annual inspections of police vessels;

— Instituting an operators checklist, vessel emergency procedures, and a vessel log book to be completed prior to voyage; and,

— Ensuring all RCMP officers expected to use water transport be given a five-day water transport course and relevant additional training.


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