Labrador court hears from widow of guide killed in 2018 incident on Eagle River as well as his employer

·4 min read

On May 7, a Labrador outfitting company will learn how much it will be fined in relation to the death of an employee on the Eagle River in 2018.

Cloud 9 Salmon Lodge Inc. pleaded guilty to three charges under the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act — failing to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of workers where reasonable, failing to supply a risk assessment for evacuation or rescue, and failing to prevent persons not in his/her employ from exposure to health or safety hazards.

There were originally seven charges — six against the company and one against the owner of the company, Norman Lethbridge. The remaining charges against the company and the count against Lethbridge were dropped.

Phoebe Davis, the widow of Raymond Green, submitted a victim impact statement to the court about the effect his death had on her life.

Davis and Green had been together for 31 years and had nine children between them when he died, the statement said. They had carved out a comfortable life and he planned to retire that year so they could take a trip around the country and meet two new grandchildren.

“I cannot describe what life without my partner has been like,” she said. “We were a pair, two halves of a whole. Half of me is missing in more ways than one.”

Davis said she hopes Green's death and the charges can make it safer for others who work and operate on the river.

In an agreed statement of facts, the court heard that on the morning of July 12, 2018, OHS received a call about an incident on the Eagle River near Cartwright, and that Raymond Green, an employee of Cloud 9, was missing following an incident on the river, where the boat he was in capsized. The other passengers on the boat, guests of the lodge, survived.

Statements from the two guests said they noticed the river was high that day and none of them were wearing lifejackets.

They began fishing around 10:30 a.m. and decided to go to an area known as the landing above the gorge. Green instructed one of the guests to put down the anchor, but it didn’t hold, and the boat began moving toward faster-flowing water.

The anchor caught, causing the bow of the boat to be pulled downward and water to come onboard. They cut the anchor free and the boat went closer to the rapid water. Green tried to get the boat to shore, but it took on more water, and the engine stalled. It hit a large wave and capsized.

One of the passengers who was swept downriver was rescued by another guide who saw the boat go over, and the other made it to shore on his own.

A search involving the CanadianCoast Guard, RCMP, Search and Rescue, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, locals, and outfitters was launched, but Green's body was not found.

OHS ordered the company to provide a written hazard assessment of the work being conducted at the time of the accident, but none was provided. The guests told OHS officials there were no safety discussions about possible hazards before going out in the boat and no guidance given on what to wear.

Lethbridge told the court there were originally lifejackets in the boat, but they were removed because they were wet and were not put back in.

It was not common practice to carry a radio when conducting guide duties, but Lethbridge said they do now.

Crown prosecutor Holly Helm said the company has changed some of its protocols to follow legislation, including recording where guides are going when they leave the lodge.

“Cloud 9 Salmon Lodge failed to practice the appropriate safety procedures required by legislation to ensure the safety of its workers. The actions of the employees, I would say, are errors in judgment that culminated in the incident," Helm said.

She said Green hadn’t followed proper procedures regarding lifejackets and dropping anchor, and the guests weren’t given enough information on possible hazards they could encounter. There were no written procedures or risk assessments for conducting work over water, she said, or emergency communication devices available.

Helm said it didn’t appear to be an incident where the company had cut corners to save money or put people in harm’s way, and the company has no prior convictions under the act.

Lethbridge’s lawyer, Randy Wellon, said Green hadn’t followed proper procedures and made mistakes that contributed to the accident. He said his client had complied with everything OHS asked since but isn’t sure if it would have mattered on that day.

“I ran this through my mind many times and I can’t think of anything I could have done to prevent the tragic outcome. It was a chain of events that led to the tragedy and if any one link in the said chain was removed, we wouldn’t be here talking about this now,” Lethbridge said.

The company is facing fines ranging from $2,000 to $250,000 on each count, and Judge Wynne Anne Trahey said she will make her decision on fines in court in Wabush on May 7.

Evan Careen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram