Father calls for changes after son’s death harvesting sea urchins

VANCOUVER — The father of a young man killed on the job while harvesting sea urchins near Haida Gwaii is calling for charges and changes to the industry a year after his son’s death.

Ted Brown said his son Connor died in less than two metres of water, but out of sight of the other diver in the water at the time. Brown fears sea urchin companies are ignoring the occupational health and safety regulations that govern the industry, and he wants to prevent anyone else from dying the way his son did.

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“This is what I’m hoping will come from Connor’s death: some change,” Brown said in an interview. “This was totally preventable.”

Shortly after Connor’s Oct. 16, 2018, death near Oswald Bay in the Dewdney and Glide Islands Ecological Reserve, WorkSafe B.C.’s fatal and serious injuries team opened an investigation. A year on, that work is still ongoing and the agency has not released any public findings about the matter.

WorkSafe said the RCMP is also investigating. “An investigation may result in a referral to the police or the Criminal Justice Branch at any stage of the investigation, if there are reasonable grounds to believe that a prosecution under the Criminal Code is warranted,” a WorkSafe statement said.

Brown said he had been in contact with the RCMP and believed police had already recommended charges to the Crown. Dan McLaughlin, a B.C. Prosecution Service spokesman, would not confirm whether it had received such a recommendation.

“The B.C. Prosecution Service does not comment on matters that may be under investigation or charge consideration,” he said.

Brown said he was not upset about the amount of time it is taking. “I would rather it be done right and thorough.”

WorkSafe’s diving regulations are clear and understandable to anyone with a cursory understanding of English, Brown said.

“Divers have two options. One is that you have to have a safety diver that can enter the water within 60 seconds. Or, if you have no safety diver, your dive partner must maintain visible contact with you at all times,” he said.

After failing to surface and return to the boat during a dive, Connor was later found unconscious underwater with ample oxygen left in his tanks, Brown said. Connor’s equipment tested fine and it is still unknown why he died, Brown said.

“They tested his blood, his blood was fine. They tested the air in the tanks, it was fine. But had someone been there to see what was going on, they could have assisted,” Brown said. He declined to go further into the details of what happened, stating concern that doing so could interfere with the investigation.

In the time since Connor’s death, Brown said he has spoken to divers in the industry who were not even aware there were safety regulations that governed dives.

“For me, if I was pointing fingers at anybody, I would be pointing them at WorkSafe for not doing their job. They’ve been very nice to deal with, don’t get me wrong. They’ve been very sympathetic. … But at the root of the problem, the industry is ignoring the regulations and WorkSafe B.C. is doing nothing to change that.”

The head of the Pacific Urchin Harvesters Association could not be reached Monday.

Brown said the year’s worth of days that had passed since Connor’s death did so “like waves on an ocean,” with some calm, others not.

“Hopefully, some change will come of it and it will seem at least somewhat worthwhile.”

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