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RCMP launch first criminal investigation into COVID-19 death at Alberta meat plant

Criminal negligence alleged in death of worker at Cargill plant in High River

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A formal complaint has been filed with the RCMP in connection with the death of a worker at the Cargill meat plant in High River. It will be the first criminal investigation into a COVID-19 related workplace death in Canada.

The complaint was filed by Ariana Quesada, the 16-year-old daughter of Benito Quesada, who was hospitalized with COVID-19 in April. Quesada was one of hundreds of workers at the Cargill plant infected with the virus. He died in hospital during May.

His daughter is alleging criminal negligence, saying the company didn’t do enough to protect workers from the infection.

“We have filed a complaint … to finally bring justice to my dad … to finally hold Cargill accountable for what they did,” Ariana Quesada said, fighting back tears, “I spent Christmas with one less person to hug,” she said. “And all the executives and general managers, everyone at Cargill got to spend Christmas with their loved ones. And I did not get that,” it was reported.

The complaint alleges Benito Quesada died due to criminal negligence, citing the following reasons:

  • The company failed to provide adequate PPE. 
  • Workers on production lines were not physically distant.
  • Lunchrooms were crowded, with tables less than half a metre apart. 
  • Company medical personnel cleared workers for duty despite positive COVID-19 tests or symptoms.
  • Workers faced unpaid, temporary layoff if they didn’t report for work out of fear of the virus.
  • Workers were promised a $500 bonus for not missing a shift over a two-month period.

The Cargill plant was the site of a massive COVID-19 outbreak back in April, eventually infecting almost 1,000 workers, and closing the plant temporarily. It was the largest single outbreak in North America, and was linked to more than 1,500 infections and 3 deaths.

The High River plant employs more than 2,000 people, many temporary foreign workers.

As part of the national food chain, and therefore an essential service, meat processing facilities remained open during the initial lockdown.

The RCMP confirmed it has opened an investigation.

“We have created a file, so to speak. An investigation has commenced,” Staff Sgt. Greg Wiebe, the detachment commander, told CBC News.

Cargill issued a statement saying: “Maintaining a safe workplace has long been one of our core values, and we recognize that the well-being of our plant employees is integral to our business and to the continuity of the food supply chain throughout Canada.”

The High River plant is not the only Cargill facility to experience large outbreaks. In December, the Cargill plant in Guelph, Ontario closed after 82 workers tested positive for COVID-19.

Cargill is also facing a class-action lawsuit in connection with the High River outbreak, on behalf of persons infected through close contact with Cargill employees.

The lawsuit was filed in July by the Calgary-based Guardian Law Group and James H. Brown and Associates, alleges Cargill ought to have known “that the lack of protective measures [at its facility near High River] would affect not only their own employees, but those close to them as well.”

Across Canada, at least 33 compensation claims for work-related deaths have been accepted by provincial insurance boards for people who contracted COVID-19 on the job, it was reported.

The RCMP investigation into criminal negligence at the High River Cargill plant could be the first of many similar investigations.

Ken Grafton is the Western Standards Ottawa Bureau Chief. He can be reached at kgrafton@westernstandardonline.com

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Ousted UCP MLA Rehn blames clerical error for expenses confusion

A deep-dive into the expense claims of the Lesser Slave Lake MLA raised questions about where the MLA spent most of his time when the legislature was not in session, and their appropriateness.

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MLA Pat Rehn says it was all a clerical error.

A deep-dive into the expense claims of the Lesser Slave Lake MLA raised questions about where the MLA spent most of his time when the legislature was not in session, and their appropriateness.

The MLA billed for three meals a day in Edmonton for two full months – even when the legislature was not in session – despite representing a constituency in northern Alberta.

“It has come to my attention that an assistant of mine has made some errors in recording meal allowances, that I was not aware of. I apologize for this, and in the future I will make sure that I personally review all expense claims before they are submitted to the province to make sure that they are correct,” said Rehn in a Monday Facebook page entry.

” I WILL NOT be claiming any expense claims for meals in Edmonton for the entire year of 2021 as a sign of my sincere regret for this.

“I can assure my constituents and all Albertans that I try to keep public expenditures that are under my control as low as possible. In the fiscal year of 2019-2020, I had a budget of $153,222.05. At the end of the year in March 2020, I still had $41,686.22 remaining which I didn’t spend. This $41,686.22 went back to the Province to be used in other needed areas.”

On January 15, Premier Jason Kenney unilaterally expelled Rehn from the UCP Caucus saying he “has made no meaningful effort to be more present in his constituency or to properly represent his hard-working constituents” and “ignored” calls to be more present in Slave Lake.

The curious reason given made no mention of the expense issue, which had come into the hands of the Western Standard and other Alberta media outlets.

Rehn has said he maintains a home in the Lesser Slave Lake constituency.

Despite this, he claimed $1,245.50 in Edmonton per diems for every day – including weekends – for every day in April, despite the the legislature sitting for just 10 days that month.

Most rural MLAs return their homes on weekends, and per diems are only to be claimed when on business.

The Western Standard has repeatedly attempted to contact Rehn for comment or explanation. As of press time, no response has been received.

Rehn also claimed $1,930 every month for his housing allowance in Edmonton, something MLAs from outside the capital region are allowed in order to maintain a residence. Alternatively, MLAs may expense stays at a hotel.

While claiming a monthly housing allowance is usual for most MLAs, it is intended for the maintenance of a secondary Edmonton residence, and not a primary residence.

The frequency of per diem meal claims on days when the legislature is not sitting raises questions about where Rehn’s actual primary residence was.

The Slave Lake Town Council alleged in a public letter that Rehn did not reside in or near the constituency, and that he spent more of his time outside of the legislature in Texas.

The legislature does not release the location of MLA primary residencies for privacy reasons.

In his May, Rehn claimed every day for meals in Edmonton except on May 1, when he just claimed only breakfast, and May 3, claiming dinner.

Every other day that month, the MLA claimed breakfast, lunch and dinner in Edmonton, billing a total of $1,193.35. He also claimed the $1,930 non-resident housing benefit. The legislature only sat for 10 days in May.

In June, Rehn appeared to make three weekend trips outside Edmonton. The legislature sat for 16 days that month, with Rehn claiming full per diems for 23 full days in Edmonton.

The house rose for the summer break on July 23, after sitting for 12 days. But Rehn claimed full Edmonton meal allowed from July 24-31, even though business had wrapped up in the capital.

The only day in July Rehn didn’t claim full per diems Edmonton was on July 18, where he billed $29.95 for lunch in Wabasca.

In the wake of the Snowbird Scandal, the mayor and entire council of Slave Lake called on their MLA to resign in an open letter. The council alleges a litany of problems they have had with him.

The town, with a population of 6,500, 255 km northeast of Edmonton, made public a laundry list of complaints against Rehn, including missed meetings and failure to represent the area for economic development.

They claim Rehn, MLA for Lesser Slave Lake, doesn’t even live in Alberta (or Canada), saying he resides in Texas.

“When Covid-19 began and the Canadian government said Canadians need to get home, you were in the United States. Since that time, you have made multiple trips abroad. In fact, right now, as our businesses suffer and many of our people aren’t working, you still aren’t here.,” said the letter signed by Mayor Tyler Warman and six other councilors.

In fact, the council claims the UCP government was aware of Rehn’s performance and have asked other MLAs to pick up his work.

“We have been told that your government has internally expressed its displeasure at your performance and have arranged for neighbouring MLA’s to check in to help make sure our Region is represented,” the letter reads.

“We seem to be making little to no progress in our Region in advocating for items that are a provincial responsibility. One of the factors that we believe is contributing heavily to this is the lack of engagement from you as our MLA.”

Pat Rehn’s public expense disclosure can be found on the Alberta Legislature’s website.

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard
dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter.com/nobby7694

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CTF calls on governments to get their pipeline act together

A lack of pipelines is costing the federal government $13 billion in lost revenue, said Terrazzano.

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All levels of government must get on the same page to try and stop more taxpayers’ money from being flushed down the pipeline drain, says the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“This shows that politicians need to get their act together so we can build pipelines in Canada,” said Franco Terrazzano, the Alberta Director of the CTF, on Monday.

Terrazzano was reacting to reports from the U.S., that President-elect Joe Biden was planning on killing the Keystone XL pipeline expansion on the first day he enters the Oval Office, January 20.

Alberta has already invested $1.5 billion in the pipeline, even though Biden was already talking about killing the project as he campaigned in the Democratic primaries.

“That means the feds need to repeal damaging legislation such as the No More Pipelines Law and the discriminatory tanker ban, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to do everything in his power to make sure Keystone XL moves forward,” said Terrazzano.

“Taxpayers are being dragged further into debt because politicians have been roadblocking pipelines in Canada and that needs to stop.”

A lack of pipelines is costing the federal government $13 billion in lost revenue a year, said Terrazzano.

Kenney has said he is “concerned” over the reports and vowed legal action if Biden does cancel the US$8 billion project.

Trudeau has so far been mute.

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard
dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com
TWITTER: Twitter.com/nobby7694

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Ousted UCP MLA Rehn blasts Kenney over lockdown measures

In a Facebook letter addressing his removal, Rehn noted he was now free to criticize Kenney’s government.

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As calls mount for him to step down, it didn’t take ousted UCP MLA Pat Rehn long to take a shot at the government he used to be part of.

Rehn, MLA for Lesser Slave Lake, was booted out of the party caucus on Friday, in part for not living up to his responsibilities in the riding.

In a Facebook letter addressing his removal, Rehn noted he was now free to criticize Kenney’s government.

“There are some advantages of not being tied to a party, however. I will now be able to express my opposition of some of the lockdown measures, such as closing gyms and businesses,” Rehn said.

“I believe strongly that measures must be taken to prevent Covid-19 spread, but also recognize the long-lasting effects caused by the lockdown itself.”

Rehn vowed to represent his riding to the best of his abilities in the future.

“There are still some large projects in the works I’m proud to be a part of, and I am optimistic this region will see great growth as we move forward, put 2020 behind us, and start fresh in 2021,” he wrote.

Rehn was one of seven UCP snowbird MLAs who jetted out of the province over the holidays while their own government had Albertans under a strict lockdown.

Rehn tweeted a picture of himself from a cave in Mexico, one of the moves that kicked off the entire scandal.

Rehn was ousted from caucus days after after an entire town council called for his firing.

In a withering letter to Rehn, the Slave Lake council alleges a litany of problems they have had with him.

The town, with a population of 6,500, 255 km northeast of Edmonton, made public a laundry list of complaints against Rehn, including missed meetings and failure to represent the area for economic development.

They claim Rehn doesn’t even live in Alberta (or Canada), saying he resides in Texas.

Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman called on Rehn to step aside.

“When you’ve lost the respect and support of the people you represent, as well as the people you work with, I think you need to take a hard look in the mirror and ask what you’re still doing there,” Warman told the Canadian Press.

The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association has also urged Rehn to step down.

“It is imperative for MLAs to be engaged with the cities, towns, villages, summer villages and counties they represent,” it said in a statement.

“It is therefore particularly regrettable that Slave Lake, High Prairie, and other municipal councils from the provincial constituency of Lesser Slave Lake had to take the unprecedented step of publicly reporting their struggles with building a productive relationship with MLA Pat Rehn.”

Meanwhile, a deep-dive into the expense claims of Rehn are raising questions about where the MLA spent most of his time when the legislature was not in session, and their appropriateness.

The MLA billed for three meals a day in Edmonton for two full months – even when the legislature was not in session – despite representing a constituency in northern Alberta.

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard
dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com
TWITTER: Twitter.com/nobby7694

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