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Coroner's office to hold public inquest into Burns Lake mill deaths

Smoke rises as police tape surrounds Abine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake, B.C. in a Jan. 21, 2012 file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

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Smoke rises as police tape surrounds Abine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake, B.C. in a Jan. 21, 2012 file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

VANCOUVER - A coroner's inquest has been called into the deaths of two workers killed when a sawmill in Burns Lake, B.C., caught fire and exploded.

But British Columbia's New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix said that while the inquest will be valuable because witnesses will be required to testify under oath, it won't ease the pain of families seeking justice.

Speaking from Burns Lake, Dix said Tuesday that a public inquiry is needed of what he called bungled investigations by the Crown and WorkSafeBC because there has been no accountability for the devastating incident.

Robert Luggi and Carl Charlie were killed and 20 others were injured in January 2012, when the blast destroyed the Babine Forest Products mill.

The Crown said two weeks ago that no charges would be laid in connection with the fatal fire, partly because WorkSafeBC investigators failed to obtain search warrants and inform people of their rights.

Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner with the BC Coroners Service, said that after reviewing the investigations, an inquest into the circumstances surrounding the blast would be beneficial to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Presiding coroner Chico Newell and a jury are expected to hear evidence from subpoenaed witnesses. A date and location have yet to be confirmed.

Premier Christy Clark has appointed her deputy minister to review the investigations by the Crown and WorkSafeBC, which said it recommended charges against the company for the "preventable" blast, concluding the fuel was too much wood dust. But the Crown said the worker safety agency's investigation was so flawed that evidence would not be admissible in court.

"The problem we have now is we have multiple reviews dealing with parts of the problem and that's why I think it will be useful to have an independent inquiry to address all of the problem," Dix said.

He called on Clark to announce an inquiry that examines how and why two Crown agencies ended up blaming each other for not proceeding with criminal charges.

Babine Forest Products has launched a lawsuit against Toshiba International Corp., alleging a motor supplied by the manufacturing giant sparked the sawdust-fuelled fire that led to the explosion.

The mill is suing for damages, claiming Toshiba and two other companies were negligent because they failed to manufacture the motor to a reasonable standard.

None of the allegations in Babine's statement of claim have been proven in court.

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