The Fernie Memorial Arena remains locked down while the investigation continues. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

Fernie and RCMP go to court over city log books in fatal ammonia leak probe

Log books center stage in clashing of investigations between the city and RCMP

The investigation into the fatal ammonia leak that left three men dead has taken an odd turn in a court dispute between the RCMP and the City of Fernie over a set of city-owned log books.

According to online court documents, the City requested that a provincial court judge allow city officials to “inspect and make copies” of a set of internal log books that were seized by the RCMP.

The log books are one piece of evidence in the Mounties’ investigation into October’s ammonia leak at a city-operated arena that left the community in mourning.

The court heard on Dec. 7 that during the recovery of the bodies, the RCMP came into possession of two log books that were kept inside the arena. The books contain detailed information about the operation and maintenance of the refrigeration system that presumably failed and caused the fatalities, documents show.

READ MORE: Investigators hone in on timeline of deadly ammonia leak in Fernie

READ MORE: Replacement outdoor rink opens in time for holidays

Lawyer Glen Purdy, representing the City, argued that the manner in which the RCMP obtained the log books was improper and illegal, because they were obtained without a search warrant and located by a firefighter.

Without the log books, Purdy said the City would not be able to complete their investigation as required by the Workers Compensation Act.

But in court, the RCMP pointed out that according to the act, the City is responsible for carrying out an investigation “as far as possible,” and that the City would not be penalized if there are circumstances beyond its control that would prevent them from completing said investigation.

RCMP further stated that in this matter, the City is not an “investigative agency” such as a police force, and “merely an employer.”

In her decision on Jan. 17, Honourable judge Lynal Doerksen sided with the RCMP that disclosing the seized log books could compromise the integrity of the criminal investigation.

“Given the nature of the incident: multiple fatalities with a possible criminal cause, it is obvious that it would not be in the public interest to jeopardize the RCMP investigation to assist the City with a statutory obligation,” Doerksen said.

Mounties’ criminal investigation continues

Although officials have not provided any updates on the investigation so far this year, RCMP have said they aren’t ruling out criminal charges, such as criminal negligence causing death.

However, “it must be emphasized that at this stage there is only the mere possibly of charges and no discussion or indication of the probability or likelihood of charges,” the RCMP said.

According to court documents, the City will receive the log books back once the RCMP investigation has concluded either because there were no charges or because the RCMP and the Crown Counsel would have to make full disclosure to the City if any charges are announced.

The City declined to comment on the decision.

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