Friday, January 20, 2012

Alberta Justice drops 33 OHS charges

The Edmonton Journal is reporting that Alberta Justice has dropped OHSA prosecutions connected to the Big Valley Jamboree stage collapse two-and-a-half years ago. Several workers were injured and one spectator was killed in the collapse.

These charges were laid July 29, 2011, almost two years to the day after the stage collapsed. This delay is fairly typical in Alberta.

How could a two-year long investigation have missed something so significant that all 33 charges would be withdrawn? It is unlikely we’ll ever know.
“After careful review and consultation with Occupational Health and Safety investigators and counsel for the defendants, the Crown concluded that there was not a reasonable likelihood of conviction on any count,” Alberta Justice spokesman Josh Stewart said Friday afternoon.

“It was a complicated case and a number of factors were considered in the course of the ongoing review. Because this case is still before the courts and there exists related civil litigation, it would be inappropriate to get into more detail about the case or the investigation.”

A more troubling question is what message this sends to employers who already know that they stand virtually no chance of being fined when they seriously injure or kill a worker.

-- Bob Barnetson


  1. get your facts straight. No workers were killed in the stage collapse.

  2. Yes, sorry--that should say several workers were injured and one spectator was killed. I've fixed that now.

  3. Just imagine how frustrating that was for the Officers who had to put in all the investigative and reporting time ! Its interesting to note that other Provinces have no issue with charging an employer just for injury nevermind a fatality.

    This case though had an Act of God defense - was it reasonable to expect that the sudden weather change was predicatable, foreseeable, therefor the accident be preventable? An employer is required to do what is reasonably practicable and over engineering a stage that had not previously failed may not have been considered practicable.

    1. Thanks Rina. The question of whether this could have reasonably been foreseen is a good one. We won’t, of course, know the answer because the government won’t disclose the results of its investigation.

      In amongst the usual internet jack-assery, there have been some interesting comments on the CBC article ( For example:

      This is very disappointing news. Particularly for those in the industry who operate above board and who pay attention to standards for equipment and safety. The fact is that the particular staging company involved in this incident has maximized their profits and maintained a competitive edge by cutting corners for decades.

      This is far from the first time they have had their staging systems fail...just a little bit of research will show cranes being used to support failed structures on a Beach Boys show in Saskatoon during the 1980s, and on Capitol Hill for Canada Day during the 1990s as well as other failures south of the border throughout the companies history.

      The company has changed their name from "Show Sound" to "North American Productions" and now to "Premier-Global" In what appears to be an attempt to disassociate themselves from that history, Yet every time there is an issue - ranging from bankruptcy to numerous serious accidents they always seem to deflect responsibility, sometimes even profiting and becoming stronger. A recent example is the Saskatchewan government giving this wealthy company 1.5 million dollars in flood disaster relief money to clean up the Craven country music festival site. (Which they own and promote themselves.)

      When dealing with temporary outdoor structures, there is no way to say that any particular system is 100% secure in the face of powerful violent weather. But there are well designed, properly constructed staging systems that carry an engineer's stamp. And there are many reputable, uncompromising production facilities providing them...But that generally costs more money and unfortunately, too many promoters and exhibitions only consider the lowest bid when choosing suppliers.

    2. continued...


      I was there when this happened. I believe the stage probably WAS built to withstand the kind of adverse weather conditions that would normally be expected in this area.

      This wind was not normal. It is rare for winds this strong to be experienced in this area, especially when they develop so suddenly.

      I will always believe that the fault in this case lies with the concert promoters who were responsible for the safety of everyone at the venue.

      There WERE reports of strong, even damaging winds headed in the direction of the concert bowl from communities WEST of Camrose up to 90 minutes before the wind hit the stage. Environment Canada WAS tracking this wind and the information WAS available to the concert promoters.

      NO they couldn't tell EXACTLY what path the wind would take - it could have passed 2 km to the north or south and the collapse would never have happened - but when you are responsible for the safety of 20,000 people in an outdoor venue and damaging winds are confirmed to be headed in your general direction, isn't it your responsibility to warn them?


      I promote shows and put on outdoor concerts. I rent and have crews build massive stages, but some of the ones we are seeing these days are too flimsy. Physics is physics, and gravity always wins. I have walked away from stages such as these ones. Tech directors have shut shows lik ethis down due to ridicuoous truss span lengths.

      Yes this was an accident, but it was certainly preventable. A better stage design would have withstood the wind, better stage crew would have released wind flaps so air would have been able to travel through.

      Now we have no idea of how accurate these comments are or what other motivations the commentors may have. But their comments highlight the point that just muttering “Act of God” does not necessarily settle the question of whether the employer ought to have been held responsible under the OHSA. And yes, it must be frustrating for OHS officers to investigate, see charges laid and then dropped.

  4. Well Put - this is why I enjoy our exchanges :)

    As you noted we will never truly know what the outcome of the investigations were which is unfortunate because the whole point is to learn from mistakes so as not to repeat them.

    I have heard a resonating voice from the OHS Officer Wilderness - that this is an all too common an occurence which makes the job all that more difficult.