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Inquest launched in B.C. mushroom farm deaths

A long-sought public inquest is now set to begin in May examining the deaths of three workers in 2008 at a Langley, B.C. mushroom farm.

The B.C. Coroners Service said Tuesday it will begin its inquest May 7 in Burnaby on the deaths of Ut Tran, 35, Han Pham, 47 and Jimmy Chan, 55.

The workers at Farmers’ Fresh Mushrooms all died within moments of entering a pumphouse where toxic gas had accumulated on Sept. 5, 2008, the province said.

Two other workers survived, but suffered permanent and severe brain damage in the incident.

B.C.’s Supreme Court in November ordered fines totalling $350,000 against two companies and three principals of the mushroom farm and a related composting operation.

The companies and personnel had pled guilty to 10 of 29 occupational health and safety charges in the wake of an investigation by WorkSafeBC, the provincial agency responsible for ensuring workplace safety.

Having reviewed "all the information available in the case, including the WorkSafeBC report," the province’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said she concluded there would benefit to holding an inquest, to "examine some of the broader circumstances of the incident in an attempt to prevent future deaths from happening in similar circumstances."

Inquest coroner Norm Leibel and a jury are to hear evidence from subpoenaed witnesses to determine the facts surrounding the deaths, the province said.

The coroners’ service said Tuesday it won’t comment further at this time, as "further details of the case are likely to become relevant evidence during the inquest."

An inquest jury may not, by law, make any findings of fault or legal responsibility, but has the opportunity to make recommendations related to the evidence presented.

"Systemic failings"

The provincial opposition New Democrats on Tuesday hailed the coroners’ service announcement. The party has repeatedly called for an inquest in this case to help "repair systemic failings."

"This inquest is the best way to truly find out what went wrong and prevent it from happening again," NDP leader Adrian Dix said Tuesday. "Previous reports have simply not gone far enough."

The NDP on Dec. 7 cited WorkSafe BC’s own report on the incident, which the party said showed that the agency "on repeated occasions failed to enforce health and safety rules, or follow up on local municipal concerns that would have stopped the disaster."

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