Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

Union seeks justice in 2004 mill death

The United Steelworkers Union announced today that they are launching a private criminal prosecution against forestry giant Weyerhaeuser, charging them responsible for the 2004 death of employee Lyle Hewer.

The USW has hired defense lawyer Glenn Orris to represent them in the case, according to a USW press release. Orris presented the prosecution to a justice of the peace at the New Westminster Courthouse. Crown council will review the case for prosecution and determine if there is sufficient evidence for trial.

The prosecution arrives six years after Hewer was killed on Nov. 17, 2004 at Weyerhaeuser's New Westminster mill. Hewer suffocated to death while cleaning out a jam in the mill's hog, a machine that funnels wood chips and refuse, according to the USW. After another worker refused a supervisor’s request to clean out a jam in the hog, Hewer attempted the task. He entered the hog and the jammed debris came loose, confining him until he died.

Weyerhaeuser had said at one point the hog was too expensive to fix, according to the USW. After Hewer's death, the company paid $30,000 to have it repaired.

WorkSafe and New Westminster police proposed charges against Weyerhaeuser under the Westray Act, a piece of legislation introduced in 2004 that holds corporate executives, directors and managers responsible for willfully neglecting to maintain safe and healthy workplaces. WorkSafe successfully fined Weyerhaeuser $297,000 for their negligence, the highest amount that was ever sought from an employer in B.C.

That same year, Crown counsel said that evidence presented in the case wasn't substantial enough for a conviction.

With the support of Orris and Hewer's family, the union is now moving forward in using the Westray Act to bring justice to Hewers' death. "There has been several, quite egregious cases where no charges have been laid and it's time to test that act. We see the Hewer case as unfinished business because there seems to be such an overwhelming case for prosecution, but it was never done," said Kim Pollack, a USW research representative.

The mill where Hewer worked for thirty years and lost his life was bought by Western Forest products 2007 and closed on Feb. 7 that year, but there is ample evidence to bring a successful prosecution against Weyerhaeuser, said Pollock.

"There's a police report, there's a report by WorkSafe, several of our members were eyewitnesses that day. All the workers in the plant were [members of the Steelworkers union] so, there is no mystery whatsoever about the events."

Wayne Roznowsky, a media spokesperson for Weyerhaeuser couldn't speculate on what would happen next, but put the ball in the crown's court.

"This matter was very thoroughly investigated. It was my understanding that crown council and senior prosecutors did review the facts. After their review, there was. . . a unanimous decision to not approve criminal charges. So really, I guess the steelworkers are alleging that the crown really did not do its job. That will be up to the crown to decide."

Justin Langille's multi-media reporting is part of his practicum at The Tyee.

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus