Father of worker killed in 2021 Kelowna crane collapse frustrated at lack of information

Cailen Vilness is shown sitting in a construction crane in a family photo. Vilness, 23, died in a crane collapse in Kelowna, B.C., on July 12, 2021. (Submitted by Danielle Pritchett - image credit)
Cailen Vilness is shown sitting in a construction crane in a family photo. Vilness, 23, died in a crane collapse in Kelowna, B.C., on July 12, 2021. (Submitted by Danielle Pritchett - image credit)

The father of a construction worker killed in a crane collapse at a job site in downtown Kelowna, B.C., almost two years ago is expressing frustration about the lack of information being released in an ongoing RCMP criminal investigation into the incident.

Chris Vilness is also disappointed that no details are being made publicly available about a now-complete WorkSafeBC investigation into the cause of the incident and any contributing factors.

Vilness's son, Cailen, was one of five workers who died on the morning of July 12, 2021, when the arm of a crane fell about 25 storeys as it was being dismantled at the site of a residential tower under construction by the real estate company Mission Group. The arm smashed into a neighbouring office building and a seniors' home.

Workers Jared Zook, Eric Stemmer, Patrick Stemmer and Brad Zawislak were also killed, while a man who was working in the office building also died.

"It's been 22 months, and we're almost coming up to two years here and would really like some clarity [on] the accident and the investigation and who's ultimately responsible," Vilness told CBC's Daybreak South in response to a joint update issued last week by Kelowna RCMP and WorkSafeBC.

Vilness added that there's "absolutely no new information" in the update, which he said is "pretty disappointing."

"Everything's kind of just sitting and waiting, and it's hard," Vilness said. "It's two years. It's our children. It's our sons and husbands and fathers … We all know what happened, but we would like to know how that happened and where the responsibility lies."

Submitted by Chris Vilness
Submitted by Chris Vilness

RCMP investigation 'extensive and complex'

Kelowna RCMP and WorkSafeBC launched independent, parallel investigations in the wake of the crane collapse, which happened on the construction site of the 25-storey Brooklyn at Bernard Block condominium tower.

In the joint update, Kelowna RCMP said its Serious Crime Unit "continues to actively investigate" the collapse "to determine if any criminal elements are present."

When police determine criminality in a case, they compile a report and forward the information to the B.C. Prosecution Service for charge consideration.

Kelowna RCMP said the criminal investigation into this incident is "extensive and complex" and will "remain ongoing" for an extended period of time.

"Among some of the complexities of this case, police are working through thousands of pieces of evidence and seized documentation and consulting with our partners nationally. In order to protect the integrity of the criminal investigation, Kelowna RCMP are unable to provide specific details with respect to the investigation at this time."

WorkSafeBC said in the update it has completed its investigation, but "a decision has been  made, in consultation with the RCMP, to not release the WorkSafeBC investigation report publicly, at this time, to ensure it does not jeopardize the ongoing and concurrent criminal  investigation."

WorkSafeBC said its purpose in identifying the cause of the incident and any contributing factors is to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. Even though the provincial agency is not releasing its investigation report publicly, it said it has "continued to incorporate key findings about tower crane assembly, disassembly or repositioning into its ongoing crane safety initiatives" over the past 22 months.

Winston Szeto/CBC
Winston Szeto/CBC

Union says lives are at stake

The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 115 is also calling for answers on the crane collapse.

"Each year, dozens of new crane operators are certified to run huge equipment, and yet after a serious accident, neither WorkSafeBC nor the RCMP have released the results of their investigations," said Brian Cochrane, business manager for IUOE Local 115.

"We need to know what went wrong, how to fix it and what to teach apprentice crane operators to do differently. Lives are at stake on these results."