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French: Two years later, and still no action

Oshawa MPP says province has yet to move on changes following Adam Brunt's 2015 death during training exercise

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

It’s been over two years, and MPP Jennifer French says not much has changed to make things safer following the tragic death of a Durham College firefighting student during a training exercise.

On Feb. 8, 2015, 30-year-old Adam Brunt of Bowmanville was swept under the ice of the Saugeen River during an exercise for cold-water rescue training. Following his death, there were repeated calls for a coroner’s inquest and for the province to look into regulating the training industry that, for the most part, is without government oversight.

“I recognize that finding a solution takes time, but the longer that solution takes, the greater the likelihood that another senseless loss will occur. In the meantime, Ontarians remain in the dark about whether any progress has even been made,” French wrote in her letter addressed to Kevin Flynn, the Minister of Labour. “If your government’s commitment is anything more than empty words, then it is time to prove it.”

French, who wrote a similar letter on the first anniversary of Brunt’s death, tells The Oshawa Express that the waiting and the bureaucratic tangle is becoming quite frustrating.

“There doesn’t seem to be a clear path forward to change this. I recognize that it might be a complicated fix. but that doesn’t mean we don’t pursue it.”

Brunt’s death was the second involving the same training company, Herschel Rescue Training Systems from Newmarket. In 2010, volunteer firefighter Gary Kendall was swept under shore ice during the same type of exercise and would later die in hospital. The company’s owner, Terry Harrison, would be charged under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, but later had the charges thrown out when a judge determined he wasn’t the one technically in charge of the exercise on that day.

A coroner’s inquest was called in June 2016 into the deaths of both Brunt and Kendall, although a date and location has yet to be determined.

A handful of meetings have taken place between French and Flynn, but concrete steps have yet to be taken, and it remains unclear where the real responsibility lies. The students are not yet workers, so it may not be the Ministry of Labour taking the lead, they are not yet firefighters so it wouldn’t be the Ministry of Correctional Services, and at the same time it may not be the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities because the training course was not put on by the school itself, but a third party.

“It’s a tangle,” French says, noting that they are going to need to be “creative” in building bridges between the ministries. “It’s not about finding the right fit, it’s about making the right fit.”

In response to a request for comment, Ministry of Labour spokesperson Michael Speers forwarded an emailed statement saying the ministry is committed to working with the other ministries to ensure the accident isn’t repeated.

“The government is mindful of its mandate to protect students enrolled in approved vocational programs at registered private career colleges. The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development has commenced a detailed analysis of its legislative and regulatory authorities to formulate options related to single skill training programs,” the statement reads. “An unimaginable tragedy struck two years ago, but the Ministry of Labour is committed to working with other ministries, as well as our training and health and safety partners, to do everything we can to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

French, who has remained close with the Brunt family, says the issue goes much further than regulations, and that she wants to see concrete action take in the near future.

“This is not a portfolio issue, this is not a partisan issue, this is a community issue,” she says. “I don’t want reassurances, I don’t want warm government fuzzies. I want proof that they’re still committed to this.”