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Inquest underway into the death of Durham College student Adam Brunt

Student died in 2015 during private ice rescue training exercise

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The coroner’s inquest into the death of Adam Brunt, a Durham College student who died during an ice rescue training exercise in 2015, is officially underway.

The inquest officially began in Toronto earlier this month and will be examining what happened leading up to Brunt’s death, as well as the 2010 death of Gary Kendall, who died during a similar training exercise with the same company.

For Oshawa MPP Jennifer French, it’s a relief to know things are finally moving forward.

“I’ve been staying connected with the families and I know that this has been an excruciatingly long time coming,” she says.

Following the inquest, set to last for two weeks and include 15 to 18 witnesses, a jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths. This could come in the form of regulating the private safety training industry, which currently has no government oversight or certification.

However, until now, the government has been fumbling with how to handle the situation. Many of those taking such training courses are students and not yet workers, so it may not be the Ministry of Labour which takes the lead, but they are also 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 are not put on by any school itself, but a third party.

“It’s no one’s responsibility,” French says. “I think we’ve realized at this point we need to switch our thinking. This has to become everybody’s responsibility.”

And French says the waiting needs to end.

“The government has been saying first they had to wait for the Ministry of Labour investigation or the police investigation and all of this and waiting for the inquest, fine. All of those tick-boxes will have been checked, there will be no more delay tactics that we will accept.”

Brunt, 30, of Bowmanville was swept under the ice of the Saugeen River during an exercise for cold-water rescue training. Brunt’s death was the second involving Newmarket’s Herschel Rescue Training Systems. In 2010, volunteer firefighter 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 that day.