FERNIE, B.C. – A judge says police do not have to turn over records that were seized during an investigation of a fatal ammonia leak at an ice rink in southeastern British Columbia.
The City of Fernie asked the provincial court judge to force the RCMP to give it copies of two log books that were taken from the arena after three men died in October.
The city argued in court in December that municipal officials needed access to the records to determine what went wrong, in part because two municipal employees who died were the most knowledgeable about the operation and maintenance of the arena.
As an employer, the city argued it is required by the Workers’ Compensation Act to do a full investigation into the incident and its probe would not be possible without the log books because they contain detailed information about the operation and maintenance of the arena’s refrigeration system.
City employees Wayne Hornquist and Lloyd Smith as well as refrigeration contractor Jason Podloski died after the leak.
The judge’s recent decision says the court heard that the RCMP took possession of the log books after the deaths, and that investigators assert sharing them could jeopardize the criminal investigation. No changes have been laid but the Mounties said the city could be a possible suspect in the criminal investigation because it owns and operates the arena.
Lawyers for the RCMP said the city will eventually get back the log books or copies of them, either because no charges are laid or as evidence during a court process.
Judge Lynal Doerksen said police do not have to share copies of the log books with the city.
“Given the nature of the incident: multiple fatalities with a possible criminal cause, it is obvious that it would not be in the public interest to jeopardize the RCMP investigation to assist the city with its statutory obligation,” he wrote in the decision, dated Jan. 17.
“To put it bluntly: the RCMP investigation is a criminal investigation and there is the possibility of criminal charges such as ‘criminal negligence causing death.’ As the city owns and operates the arena, the city is a possibly suspect. It must be emphasized that at this stage there is only the mere possibility of charges and no discussion or indication of the probability or likelihood of charges.”
The court heard RCMP officers did not have a search warrant for the log books when a firefighter was asked to retrieve them from the arena.
The city argued the firefighter had no authority to turn the records over to police and alleges that the way the RCMP obtained them was “improper or illegal.” It says investigators obtained a search warrant for the log books after they were already in the possession of the RCMP.
Doerksen’s decision says the RCMP does not dispute “the underlying facts” about how the Mounties got the records, but lawyers for the force took the position that questions surrounding how they were obtained were irrelevant.
The judge agreed, saying “the issue of the lawfulness of the seizure of the log books is for another day if charges are pursued.”
In addition to the RCMP, WorkSafeBC and Technical Safety BC are investigating the leak.