SHEET HARBOUR – Nova Scotia Power Inc. (NSPI) and two other companies are facing provincial charges related to the on-the-job drowning death of a civil engineer at a dam near Sheet Harbour two years ago, according to information filed in court last week.
But the deceased’s sister, who is suing the provincial government for negligence in the incident, says the charges don’t go far enough to ensure that what happened to her brother won’t happen to someone else.
“They don’t address the lack of legislation around the dam,” Nicole Gnazdowsky told The Journal in an interview. “There’s nothing in place to make sure this won’t reoccur.”
Andrew Gnazdowsky, a 26-year-old civil engineer working for Brunswick Engineering and Consulting Inc. of Saint John, N.B., drowned while attempting to recover a piece of equipment under water near NSPI’s hydroelectric facility at the Marshall Falls reservoir on Oct. 16, 2020. At the time, Brunswick Engineering was contracted to GEMTEC Consulting Engineers and Scientists Ltd. of Fredericton, NB, which was contracted to NSPI.
According to the document filed in provincial court March 28 by occupational health and safety investigator and special constable, Terry Duggan, summons have been issued for “…three companies who allegedly failed to take necessary steps to ensure worker safety.”
The document states that Brunswick Engineering did not, for example, perform “a project site hazard assessment prior to the start of the job.” Nor did it secure “adequate `Work over Water’ safe work practices,” including life jacket, other flotation devices and standard rescue equipment. It faces five charges.
The document also states that GEMTEC did not adequately oversee Brunswick Engineering’s safety plans, priorities and protocols or implement its “Health & Safety Plan that was required by the 1/8its 3/8 Health & Safety Manual that was completed for Marshall Falls.” It faces six charges.
Finally, the document states that “Nova Scotia Power Inc., being an employer under the Act, failed to implement the Tier 1 Contract/Project requirements of the Nova Scotia Power Contractor Safety Program ?thereby committing an offence contrary ? the Occupational Health and Safety Act.” It faces four charges.
According to Chris Hansen, senior director of strategic communications and special projects for the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service (PPS), the first court appearance is scheduled for Dartmouth Provincial Court at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 20. “First appearances are usually quite brief,” he said in an email, adding: “From there, another date will be set. It may take several appearances before we have a trial date.”
Responding to The Journal’s request for a statement about the charges, NSPI spokesperson Jacqueline Foster said in an email that while “the tragedy continues to weigh heavily on our entire team ? this matter is before the Courts 1/8and 3/8 we are unable to comment.”
David Purdue, GEMTEC’s senior director of civil engineering and vice president (Atlantic West), also stated “we will not be commenting” while the matter is being prosecuted.
Brunswick Engineering did not respond to The Journal’s request for comment.
Nicole Gnazdowsky said, however, that while she’s “glad to see that 1/8the provincial government is 3/8 finally going forward with charging all three companies, I don’t think that these charges actually go far enough to address the issue, which is the power dam, and the lack of legislation around the power dam. The power dam is what killed Andrew. It’s a lot bigger issue that has actually resulted in where we’re at now. The charges are guided to set the right direction, but they’re not preventative.”
Over the past two years, Gnazdowsky has waged a battle to uncover the precise circumstances of her brother’s death. Throughout, she says, she’s encountered obstruction, miscommunication and even hostility from various levels of government. She’s also been forthcoming in social and mainstream media with her misgivings about the process.
In her Notice of Intended Action against the Attorney General of Nova Scotia, the Departments of Justice, and the Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration – filed in Nova Scotia Supreme Court last October – Gnazdowsky alleged that the defendants failed to “provide adequate guidelines and standard requirements for the operation, maintenance, and overall overseeing of dam usage” and to “properly investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident and the events that led to the incident and the death.”
The notice – which lists her parents as plaintiffs and her as their representative – also stated the defendants “chose not to take appropriate action within a reasonable timeframe” and “chose to perform the autopsy in a negligent manner.”
At the time, Gnazdowsky told The Journal, “The fact that I can’t find anybody to examine any of the issues around this 1/8incident 3/8 is crazy. Who, then, is responsible? I want an independent inquiry and I want the system fixed.”
None of the allegations in the Notice of Intent – a preliminary step to filing a formal lawsuit – have been proven in court, but Gnazdowsky remained adamant last week.
“We still have our notice of intended action filed,” she said. “And that lawsuit focuses on the quality of the investigation, because the investigation was done very, very poorly. So even the charges right 1/8now 3/8 are based on an investigation that had a flawed autopsy report that I had to correct.”
Still, she conceded, in light of the new charges “I really have no idea what’s going to happen now. I’m meeting with the lawyer that the province has assigned to the lawsuit that my family has filed. And then I’m meeting with the prosecutor for the province on my brother’s case, I still have no idea, with this process.”
Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GUYSBOROUGH JOURNAL