Ferry Captain’s “Red Herrings” Won’t Save His Job

Apr 26, 2011

Earlier this month, a final ruling was made in a case that started over 5 years ago with the crashing and sinking of a BC Ferry ship.  Sadly for the former captain of the vessel, the courts decided his argument for wrongful dismissal was about as buoyant as his former ship. 
In 2006, BC Ferry, The Queen of the North went south after veering off course and crashing into Gill Island at full speed.  In total, 99 passengers were rescued and two were considered dead.
An investigation into the disaster concluded that the navigational crew was at fault for failing to make a critical course change.  According to BC Local News, the Transportation Safety Report also indicated that there was a “total safety breakdown which included disabled systems, insufficient training, and human failure to keep a watch.” 
Captain Colin Henthorne was fired shortly following the inquiry – not because of his involvement in the ships sinking, but rather his lack thereof in response to it.  Believing he was fired for safety concerns he raised following the disaster, Henthorne filed a claim with the BC Workers Compensation Board.  His employment was initially ordered to be reinstated, but the decision was reversed when the employer appealed.   The Supreme Court dismissed Henthorne’s appeal on the basis that his detailed list of safety concerns were all deemed to be “red herrings” – that is, they had no relevance to the inquiry into the Queen of the North.  Essentially, Henthorne prioritized his personal concerns and neglected his duty to assist with the workplace investigation.
In Ontario, much like in BC, workers are protected from dismissal, should they raise concerns about health and safety violations.  This case involved two mutually exclusive issues: (1) the negligence involved in the sinking of the ship and the subsequent investigation and (2) the health and safety concerns raised by Henthorne.  Ironically the concerns Henthorne raised ended up being the reason he was fired…just not for the reasons he anticipated.

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