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Queen of the North conviction won't make BC Ferries safer: former union president

Convicting the Queen of the North's navigating officer Karl Lilgert of criminal negligence causing death does nothing to make BC Ferries safer, said Jackie Miller, who was president of the British Columbia Ferry and Marine Workers' Union at the time of the sinking.

"I think that Karl was one individual in an event that involved many individuals as well as organizations," Miller said in an interview. "This has given everybody a scapegoat but it's not fixed what needs to be fixed at BC Ferries. This has accomplished nothing. There is no justice here."

On March 22, 2006, after failure to make a course correction the ferry struck Gil Island on the route from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy and sank. Passengers Shirley Rosette and Gerald Foisy are missing and presumed drowned.

After a four month trial, a jury found Lilgert guilty on May 13. He will return to court for sentencing on June 21. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. Lilgert plans to appeal.

"Ultimately the sinking of the Queen of the North was due to systemic failures," said Miller. Company management is responsible for making sure a vessel is secure in all respects, she said. "That duty wasn't the case here. They didn't even have an evacuation plan."

Miller said the Transportation Safety Board found several systemic problems when it investigated the sinking. On her Facebook page she quotes them, including:

"Full consideration was not given to the maintenance of an adequate bridge complement at critical locations and times, and in poor weather conditions."

"QM1, [Karen Briker] who did not hold an appropriate certificate, was allowed to stand watch without being supervised by an appropriately certified person (other than the OOW)."

"The selection and composition of the bridge watch did not take into full consideration the experience of the bridge team. For instance, the C/O and 3/O stood the 0600 to 1800 watch (during predominantly daylight hours), while the 2/O and 4/O stood the 1800 to 0600 watch (during hours of darkness)."

"Regardless of whether the Queen of the North was in restricted visibility, the uncertified QM should have been supervised by either the second of the two officers on the bridge or, in the absence of the second of the two officers, by a qualified QM."

"The TSB is of the opinion that the absence of a third (and appropriately certified) person on the bridge at the time of the missed course change, and through to the time of the striking, reduced the defences in place, thereby increasing the possibility that the error would go undetected."

After the sinking, the investigation should have included Transport Canada's "lack of a proper regulatory regime" and the role of auditor Lloyd's Classification Society, Miller said.

The federal government has to bring BC Ferries into full compliance with the Canada Shipping Act, she said. "It should have been fixed years ago, but there seems to be this special treatment of BC Ferries that's quite frankly very disturbing."

There has been no coroner's inquest, judicial review or WorkSafeBC investigation in the seven years since the sinking, said Miller. "This trial of one individual is the only public process that's taken place," she said. "Not only has justice not been done for Karl Lilgert, it's not been done for anyone ... It's the classic 'they've got to find one guy to hang', and Karl's the guy."

Miller also said she regrets not raising more alarm about safety issues in her role as union president. "I would have been a lot louder than I already was," she said. "I wouldn't have let up, if I had to do it again."

She said she plans to make up for that "deficiency" in the future.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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