Charge brought to shed light on training death

Charge brought to shed light on training death
By Scott Dunn
Owen Sound Sun Times
Link to article: Charge brought to shed light on training death

A Crown attorney will assume carriage of a charge of criminal negligence causing death brought privately against a man who conducted swift, cold-water rescue training during which a man died nearly three years ago.

Adam Brunt, 30, of Bowmanville drowned Feb. 8, 2015, in the icy Saugeen River in Hanover after his survival suit got caught on a piece of metal under the ice in the fast-moving river. His instructor, Terry Harrison, owner of Herschel Rescue Training Systems, is charged. He said Saturday he will plead not guilty, but has yet to receive formal notice of the charge.

Terri-Jo Thompson, a Kincardine native who lives in Pickering, caused the charge to be laid. She and Brunt were among a dozen Durham College firefighting program students taking the weekend training in Hanover from Harrison's company.

She followed a rarely used pre-enquete process, which involves a closed-door hearing to allow a JP to determine whether enough evidence exists to support a charge.

Walkerton Justice of the Peace Adriana Magoulas issued process which established the charge on Dec. 5, after a five-day hearing. Thompson said in an interview she'd expected and wanted the Crown to intervene.

She said she is pursuing the criminal charge because of concerns she has about the transparency of the police investigation and the initial decision not to lay a charge.

Harrison is scheduled to appear in the Ontario Court of Justice in Walkerton Jan. 24 to speak to the charge.

Adam Brunt's father, Al Brunt, said in an interview he supports pursuing Harrison in criminal court "if for no other reason it's about getting all the facts out there. There's a lot of discrepancies out there."

He said the inquest held in May into his son's death, and that of another man five years earlier, "raised a lot of questions."

For example, Brunt said the suit his son was wearing when he died "was not recommended by the manufacturer for swift waters and . . . there were things on the suit to indicate that."

Brunt said his son was the kind of person who protected people who were bullied, was an IT worker who helped friends with their computer troubles and had studied to become a police officer before deciding to pursue firefighting.

Brunt said he will be helping the provincial government in an advisory capacity yet to be determined to implement the jury's recommendations.

Adam Brunt was the second man in five years to die while taking cold and swift water training from Harrison. Point Edward volunteer firefighter Gary Kendall, 51, died on Jan. 31, 2010 in the St. Clair River during an ice-water rescue exercise in which Harrison was also involved.

The inquest recommended the province consider holding in abeyance all cold-water rescue training in swift waters until an expert committee determines it can be done safely.

On Sept. 21, the Ontario legislature unanimously passed Oshawa NDP MPP Jennifer French's private member's motion for the Liberal government to immediately and fully adopt all 15 inquest recommendations.

Harrison said in an interview Saturday that he would plead "definitely not guilty" but that he has not been served notice of the charge yet.

"I don't know what I've been charged with, I don't know what they're relying it on, anything. I just know there's a court appearance Jan. 24 in Walkerton. That's all I know. And I only know that by the media."

Harrison confirmed he has stopped offering instruction in cold-water rescues in swift water. He said that's because the one-size-fits-all suits used by most fire departments in Ontario aren't safe enough.

"As I said in the coroner's inquest, I am stopping doing that training until I find a suit that is -- efficient enough to do the job . . . to be safer and also more efficient."

By that he said he means a suit which enables the "ability to swim, ability to react, everything." He said a firefighter's turn-out gear to fight fires must be fitted "but yet 80 per cent of the fire departments of Ontario uses a one-size-fits all suit when it comes to water rescue."

"As I said all during the coroner's inquest, there's no mandatory swim test. There's nothing. And yet we put them in a suit that they're incapable of swimming in."

Asked why would he would even agree to do the training if he was using a suit he thinks is so problematic, Harrison said "I didn't know how problematic it was until this accident."

A Ministry of the Attorney General spokesperson confirmed for The Sun Times the Crown has elected to take over responsibility for the prosecution.

Thompson said Bruce County Crown attorney Melody Martin opposed Thompson's charge request during the pre-enquete because, in the Crown's view, there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.

The Bruce County Crown's office directed all inquiries about this charge to Ministry of the Attorney General media relations.

Asked if a member of the Bruce County Crown's office would have carriage of the prosecution, a ministry spokesperson said a Crown has not been formally assigned. Given the charge is before the court, "it would be inappropriate to comment further," a ministry spokeswoman said.

Thompson said there seems to be "finger-pointing" between the Crown and police over who decides about laying a charge.

"I have concerns about the process of where the police were initially consulting with the Crown. I think there's a lot of questions that need to be answered. And unfortunately the only way to get answers is to submit a formal complaint."

Thompson has filed a complaint against Hanover Police Service with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, a civilian police oversight agency, and sent a copy to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, another oversight agency.

She filed a separate complaint against the Crown with the office of the director of Crown operations -- west region and has a meeting set with the director early this month.

Thompson said she's seeking "transparency".

Harrison was acquitted in 2012 on one charge under the Occupational Health and Safety Act in the 2010 death of Point Edward volunteer firefighter Gary Kendall. The 51-year-old was pulled under the ice for three or four minutes during a Jan. 30, 2010 training exercise.

Justice Michael O'Dea acquitted Harrison on a charge of failing as a supervisor to take reasonable precautions to protect a worker by having adequate rescuers and equipment available.

A key trial issue was whether Harrison was the supervisor in charge of safety for 18 firefighters who were in the frigid, swift-moving St. Clair River, The Sarnia Observer reported while covering the trial.

Point Edward Fire Chief Doug MacKenzie testified he was not the incident commander and Harrison was instructing the firefighters. But O'Dea found the chief never gave up authority over the safety of firefighters.

Charges against the fire chief were withdrawn but the Village of Point Edward pleaded guilty to failing to take precautions to protect a worker and was fined $75,000.

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