Transport Canada added to list of potentially liable in B.C. lawsuit
Feb. 7, 2011, Vancouver - Two widows whose husbands were killed in a British Columbia helicopter crash have won a court fight to add Transport Canada to the list of people and groups they claim are liable.
Transport Canada, which has been working for years to shift the safety onus onto the aviation industry, argued unsuccessfully that it didn't have a "duty of care" in connection to the crash.
Now, a spokesman for an advocacy group formed to protect whistleblowers, says the case should be sending a message to the federal government and the way it oversees aviation safety.
"They need to stop looking at it at as legal and public relations issues and look at it as if they are going to do their job in providing proper oversight of the industry," said David Hutton, with the group FAIR, standing for Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform.
Robert Honour, the owner and pilot of the chopper, and his passenger Les Chadwick were killed in the Sept. 17, 2005, crash.
The widows claim the crash was caused by negligent maintenance on the chopper.
The lawsuit says the maintenance was performed by a man certified and licensed by Transport Canada, even though he had pleaded guilty in 1997 to falsifying aircraft records under the Aeronautics Act.
The court documents say Art Comeault was the maintenance engineer who repaired the helicopter and certified it as air worthy. Comeault was certified by Transport Canada.
The lawsuit states Comeault failed to record a previous accident involving the helicopter and didn't carry out mandatory inspections for damage from the rollover crash.
None of the allegations contained in the suit have been proven in court and the trial is not scheduled until May.
Other defendants include the maker of the helicopter and its engine and the manufacturer of the fuel pump.
The widows argued the federal government had a duty of care to remove Comeault from his job after Comeault's guilty plea in the 1997 case.
Lawyers for Transport Canada fought against adding the federal government, but B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elliott Myers disagreed.
Myers said the case doesn't seek to make Transport Canada a guarantor for the safety of aircraft, but that it intends to argue Transport Canada has the duty to exercise care in enforcing its own regulations.
"The negligence alleged against Transport Canada is with respect to something over which it had direct control," the judge wrote in the December ruling.
The ruling isn't a finding of liability on Transport Canada's part. It simply means that a jury can consider the possibility at the upcoming trial.
The lawyer for Transport Canada, Alastair Wade, said no appeal was planned. He wouldn't comment on the possibility of a settlement or about other issues surrounding the case.
Transport Canada's safety management system for the aviation industry has come under fire over the past several years since it was introduced.
Though it was not in place when the two men were killed in the B.C. helicopter crash, industry watchers have been worried the new policy could lead to more disasters.
Some of the changes included the cancellation of a federal program to audit airline safety.
The federal government has argued the system is meant to be another layer of safety for aviation.
But critics say federal inspectors are only looking at safety reports and not the planes themselves and that could lead to trouble for those operations trying to save money.
Public interest advocate Hutton said the safety systems can be an excellent tool to better operations.
"But in the hands of people who are incompetent or dishonest or just cutting corners, they so easily just become a paper facade that hides all kinds of who knows what."