Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Letter re; Cascade Aerospace or "You're Not Safe in the Sky".

I am writing to inform you of a significant, unresolved situation regarding what could be the largest mass poisoning of personnel in a federally regulated industry in Canadian history, which has and will impact thousands of individual Canadians for generations.

This case involves the Air transport industry. As you are aware this federally regulated industry falls under the jurisdiction of Transport Canada and HRSDC. The company involved is currently a contractor with the Department of National Defense. Workplace wage replacement benefits are in this case provided by a Workers Compensation Board which falls under provincial jurisdiction.

A massive chemical poisoning incident occurred in March 2002 which left five employees permanently disabled. Following outlined procedures injured and non injured workers submitted written and verbal complaints to the local HRSDC/Labour Canada office. For reasons yet to be determined the representative from the office who was assigned to investigate these complaints, missed the opportunity to initiate appropriate enforcement action as outlined under Part II of the Federal Labour Code.

Poisonous chemical exposure incidents continued at this employer’s facility on a regular basis until the fall of 2009. When after examining the situation a second official representing HRSDC/Labour Canada issued a Direction pursuant to Part II of the Federal Labour Code. The company, a major Canadian Defense Ministry Contractor is by all indications following the issued Direction.

However it must be considered that during this time frame the number of employees who received poisonous chemical exposures and became disabled increased from five in 2002 to approximately seventy. This approximate number does not include employee’s children born with birth defects. Or the small but significant number of employees diagnosed with various forms of cancer. Well over eleven hundred employees of this company received well documented poisonous chemical overexposures for over seven years without intervention by the regulatory body responsible for oversight.

Formally submitted complaints with applicable reference material alleging multiple serious contraventions of Part II of the Code, naming the company as well as the company’s insurer and representative WorkSafe BC have been made since 2002.

The lack of response from HRSDC/Labour Canada has been a major contributing factor in this issue evolving into the crisis it is today. It should be considered that this lack of response has caused these employees to be denied the fundamental right to what is known in the industry as a Bill C-45 Hearing, or more appropriately known as Section 217.1 of the Criminal Code. In taking seven and a half years to initiate a Direction since first receiving complaints that a “danger existed” at this workplace. HRSDC has allowed the statute of limitations to expire on several important issues. The ability to prosecute the company as well as its insurance provider has been severely compromised.

It should be noted that this lack of an issuance of a Direction when first notified a “danger existed” at this workplace, allowed the companies’ representative and insurer WorkSafe BC to legally circumvent its responsibilities as wage replacement benefit provider by stating; “a lack of causation existed” between the workplace and the employee’s disabling health & medical conditions.

The exact number of employees who have become disabled due to these poisonous chemical exposures is not accurately recorded, however is estimated to be approximately seventy. After viewing the eight yearlong battle for wage replacement benefits by several employees. Current employees of this company are simply not applying for wage replacement benefits as they are not financially, mentally or emotionally fit to enter into combat with the company’s representative and insurer WorkSafe BC, an organization well known for human rights violations. As the outcome of these claims is predetermined, employees in this federally regulated workplace are aware they will be denied disability benefits regardless of all efforts. The sheer volume of previously denied claims has not gone without notice and is in itself generating considerable public interest.

The right of employees to receive wage replacement benefits was also blocked by HRSDC failing to prosecute the company’s representative, WorkSafe BC for acts of non-disclosure under Part II of the Code, which are criminal offences. Again no employee disabled at this company by poisonous chemical exposures has received wage replacement benefits.

The following quote was taken from a January 2009 CBC News report on the situation; “After a tour with company safety representatives, Melinda Lum of HRDC concluded "there are no violations in the regulation or code." indicating the level of competence as well as performance of Due Diligence applied in this matter by HRSDC.

Enquiries and complaints regarding this HRSDC employee to her supervisor were dismissed with a standard “you need to work this out with her” response. Indicating a clear lack of quality control or checks and balances to prevent a single individual’s failure in job performance to initiate a crisis as it has in this case. It has not gone unnoticed that the only individual to receive the benefit of protection by Part II of the Code is this single HRSDC employee. The appearance that this HRSDC employee is also shielded from Section 221 of the Criminal Code has now become a matter of public interest.

Enquiries identifying criminal activity allegations of WorkSafe BC, supplied with reference material to subsequent BC Provincial Labour Minister’s offices since 2002. Have consistently resulted in the following cookie cutter, not my department reply: “I am advised that the company in question, Cascade Aerospace, falls under federal jurisdiction for occupational health and safety issues”

In October 2009 then Federal Minister of Labour, R Hon Rona Ambrose responded to a letter from R Hon Maria Minna, Opposition Labour Critic inquiring as to the status of the situation. Her response in writing was that there is an ongoing investigation and as such she could not comment. However, six months into this alleged investigation, no representative from HRSDC/Labour Board has contacted any individual or organization involved in this crisis. Which when examining everything as a whole, unfortunately calls into question the integrity of not only the Ministry but the Minister as well.

Given the overall size, impact, to serve public interest as well as the public interest generated, and the allegations which indicate HRSDC is a major contributing factor in this crisis. The mere perception of HRSDC investigating itself in this situation gives the appearance of being unethical.

In response to a request by Opposition Ethics Critic, R Hon Marlene Jennings under The Access to information Act for information related to this crisis. HRSDC applied a time limit extension of up to 90 days in accordance with paragraph 9(1) (a) of the Act which states:

9. (1) The head of a government institution may extend the time limit set out in section 7 or subsection 8(1) in respect of a request under this Act for a reasonable period of time, having regard to the circumstances, if

(a) the request is for a large number of records or necessitates a search through a large number of records and meeting the original time limit would unreasonably interfere with the operations of the government institution,

The utilization of this reference again highlights the perception of an unethical self-investigation of HRSDC’s role in this crisis. Also the utilization of this reference infers one should question the conduct of HRSDC personnel as well as the Minister involved as it raises two important points:

A)    If the amount of records pertaining to this company and this situation are in substantial of size as to require up to 120 days to compile, is not an explanation of why it took an HRSDC representative seven and a half years to issue a Direction is past due?


B)    As it is HRSDC/Labour Canada’s mandate is to be responsible for Part II of the Canada Labour Code and Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations. And with the current investigation being conducted in name only: How is it possible that poisonous chemical overexposures of over one thousand employees of a single company could unreasonably interfere with the operations of this government institution when its mandate is to protect these same employees?

As the company which is the center of this investigation has received DND contracts valued in excess of one half billion dollars of taxpayer money, the information formally requested under The Act, is of significant public interest.

Current and newly appointed Minister of Labour R Hon Lisa Raitt or personnel from her office have as of yet to respond to multiple written and verbal enquiries.

This crisis has not gone unnoticed by the company. After receiving multimillion dollar loans and contracts from both the British Columbia and the Government of Canada: Cascade Aerospace the company at the center of this crisis has recently divested itself of its facility in British Columbia Canada. Restructured its corporate entity and distanced itself from its former parent company Conair Group.

While laying off hundreds of employees in Canada the company has invested heavily in new facilities in Washington State USA. And also has moved specialty tooling along with aircraft parts out of Canada to this new facility. The company is essentially a shell of what it was when this crisis began. Other than ten year old office furniture the company has little to no assets in Canada.

This crisis reinforces criticism from the US Department of Defense of flaws in the Canadian DND contractor procurement processes. As the DND has awarded this company which is a leader in a consortium, two additional multimillion dollar contracts on top of the existing 450 million dollar maintenance contract after this crisis became public knowledge.

This has now become a national unity issue as jobs were lost in the provinces of Alberta and Quebec by DND’s decision to grant these contracts to a company with a known and abysmal safety record, and as documented questionable ethics.

The treatment of these disabled employees by the company, the Province of British Columbia and Canadian Governments; has contravened even the lowest of constitutional and human rights standards in Canada. As the company is in an exporter of goods and services and has not been charged under the applicable regulations. It therefore has received an unfair advantage by the Provence of British Columbia and the Canadian Government over its competitors in foreign countries which has resulted in job losses, clearly indicates the spirit of Canada’s commitment to NAFTA, The World and other free trade agreements.

This crisis combined with Transport Canada’s efforts to implement aspects of an SMS program without parliamentary approval. Demonstrates an unacceptable reliance on the complacency of traveling Canadians to assume they are safe on a Canadian registered aircraft when this is no longer true.

Heather Cook


Kirsten said...

Thank you for not giving up, for fighting for justice on behalf of, not just yourselves, but all those who continue to find themselves in unsafe conditions with no recourse. I will be spreading your letter around

Stay safe,
Kirsten Stevens

Anonymous said...

Nice jab at SMS at the end. This is an OHS issue and SMS was not in place when the problems occured.
I worked there from 2002 - 2004 and went through the "paint wars". It has been blown way out of proportion in my opinion.

Serenity Now! said...

Perhaps you didn't read the sentance:

"This crisis" combined with "Transport Canada’s efforts to implement aspects of an SMS program".... clearly shows that the SMS program and this crisis did not occur at the same time.

Two issues. The crisis and the program implementation.

I understand your feelings about it being blown out of proportion. Obviously you were not one of the individuals injured. I know one of them very well and I can tell you that my father has never been the same.

He went from a man who could hike up and down and around a mountain to a man who couldn't lie flat without fluid pooling in his lungs, a man with multiple chemical sensitivities and disabling headaches.

Compassion is a wonderful thing. Just because you were not affected does not mean someone else was.

Wild Canary said...

RE: "Being blown way out of proportion comment..." and I am an extremist...I know you mean well, working there and all, but if you are someone hit with one of the toxic chemicals being misused in our global society, you would feel differently...but probably wouldn't have much energy to fight. I hope this issue is blown even higher out of proportion, so the indivduals that have been injured will get the protocals for healing that they so deserve.
Most people who have these feelings about the issue haven't been hurt yet, but it is probably just a matter of time; then you will understand and think that maybe we should have been screaming louder...there is a fire raging out there and no one even seems to smell the smoke, let alone want to put it out.

Anonymous said...

To all involved, and not involved.
No one knows what anyone suffers thru. I do. Being a fiance of a lady who was first infected, and seeing her pain.... makes me have compassion for all involved, and the injustice of the Canadian goverment for giving it a passive nod.

Her family and friends... will know every day the way she suffers thru these altercations in her health. I'm a US citizen... I always thought Canada was very caring and people oriented country. I'm seeing a change in her, (the country).

I've researched what my fiance has spoken of. There is meat here for anyone to see, except the ones with the blinders on... To them I say shame on them. Is my country better some may say? No, we have our issues as well. Big ones! But for a country (Canada) who has always been revered as a wonderful place to live, the goverment might not be showing it. AS for the people... God be with you. You are a remarkable people, don't let anyone change you.... not even the goverment.

By the way... Cascade Barry Mardston has just taken the companies work to another step as far as I can see... Global. Now we all should be concerned about the quality of flying.

Best Regards,

Anonymous said...

Thank you Kirsten and thank you Heather...Yes I am one who has been affected by the hazardous working conditions in the Cascade Aerospace hangar...In my final days of working there, it is understated to say that I worked in an intoxicated state, to the point of literally staggering off the dock some days, and injuring myself...I was an Aircraft Interior Technician, trained by one of the best in the industry, John Edwards, and at B.C.I.T. Everyday I trained with John he would tell us as a class, NEVER to work on airplanes if you felt you were sick, injured or troubled in any way, that 100 per cent attention, and in every way is mandatory, after all we are dealing with many people, and many lives...Around me every day were people, myself included who were becoming increasingly ill from the toxic conditions in the Cascade Aerospace hangar...When I became aware of the reasons that I was perpetually sick, I took my most respected instructors advice, and I took a stand, and refused to work in the hangar until the conditions there were safe, and favorable. This was in January 2003...Neither the company, nor the Workers Compensation Board of BC were willing to recognize my illnesses, nor were they willing to recognize the hazardous conditions in the hangar, thus putting a stop to all painting and stripping going on, not to mention the inadequacy of the ventilation system, which if it were working optimum, would still have been far from adequate...I took a stand for safer skies, because I felt if I did, others would follow, and the conditions at the Cascade hangar would have to improve...I took a stand because I did not want to be the one responsible for my mistakes, due to my intoxicated condition, hurting, or worse killing any people...I remember one day sewing a new harness on a life jacket, and I sewed it like someone who was working upside down and inside out...This was the day in March 2002 when the first major exposure (that my co-workers and I knew of) happened in the hangar...after that day, I was never able to return to work full time...Soon my inability to carry out my work ethics, won over my desire for a career at Cascade, and I walked away, as a single mother of four teen-age children who, needless to say, depended on me entirely...Safety masks, one commenter here mentioned, were provided, yes, but these masks were in no way efficient enough, not masked designed for painting and stripping, and in fact proved to be more harmful to those using them, because the filters were overloaded too quickly, much to our ignorance...Fight for Justice, like my co-workers and I have been doing for 8 years now...It could mean your life...