Brewster Inc. faces 8 provincial charges after fatal Columbia Icefield rollover

The provincial government announced that the company offering tours of the Columbia Icefield faces eight charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act relating to the fatal July 2020 rollover.

On July 18, 2020, an offroad Ice Explorer tour bus lost control on the road leading to the Athabasca Glacier and rolled down an embankment, killing three passengers and injuring 14 others.

According to Alberta OHS, the charges were officially laid against Brewster Inc. on Tuesday in connection to the “serious incident,” including three counts of failing to ensure the health and safety of passengers by not controlling the hazard of the “slope of the lateral moraine.”

Other charges include failing to mandate seat belt usage for employees, failing to maintain seat belts, failing to ensure all equipment could “safely perform” its function, and that all equipment used was “free from obvious defects.”

The matter is scheduled to be heard on June 23 in Jasper provincial court.

The alleged OHS violations have yet to be proven in court.

If convicted, fines up to $500,000 for a first offence could be levied against the company, imprisonment, corporate probation, or other creative sentences. Fines for subsequent violations can be up to $1 million and all fines under the OHS Act are subject to a 20 per cent “victim surcharge.”

Alberta RCMP say the criminal investigation into the incident has concluded and that prosecutors are reviewing the material to see if charges are warranted.

“The RCMP will provide a further update to the victims and families in an updated media release when further information about the outcome of the criminal investigation can be shared,” police said.

Mounties say the criminal investigation is “separate and parallel” to the OHS investigation.

Two civil lawsuits have been filed on behalf of the 27 people who were on board the tour bus.

Tours using Ice Explorer vehicles resumed at the Columbia Icefield last summer. The tour provider confirmed to CTV News at the time that seatbelts were added to the fleet and that changes were made to driver training and road and vehicle maintenance.

Pursuit Collection, the company operating the icefield tours and the Jasper skywalk, said in a statement to CTV News that it could not comment on the specifics of the case.

“We continue to support a transparent and multi-agency investigation into this tragic accident,” said Tanya Otis, a company spokesperson.

Basil Bansal, a Diamond and Diamond partner and lawyer representing six of the survivors from the crash and one of the people who were killed, said the OHS charges represent one form of justice.

“(These charges) certainly speak to the seriousness of what occurred here and that the government recognizes that,” he said. “This really speaks volumes as to what the company did wrong when it comes to the operations of these buses and the tour.”

Shortly after the incident in 2020, Bansal said the statement of claim filed by the survivors of the crash made similar accusations.

“Now that these allegations have turned into charges by OHS, it actually makes our case and what we plead in 2020 a lot stronger,” Bansal said.

“Today’s news definitely sheds some light as to what went wrong,” he added. “From earlier news and from talking to my clients, we know the injuries that were suffered, we know who lost their lives, unfortunately, but we didn’t know what went wrong.”

“For two years, they have been waiting for answers,” he said. “(Now) we’ve received some answers.”

The Columbia Icefield is located approximately 100 kilometres south of Jasper, Alta., and is one of the largest non-polar icefields in the world.

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