Ha Qua Truong (front), the former owner of a Langley mushroom farm where three workers died in 2008, has made application to have a fine against his company set aside.
Photograph by: Ward Perrin , PNG
Ha Qua Truong, the former owner of a Langley mushroom farm where three workers died in 2008, is trying to have a court-imposed fine against his company set aside.
But B.C. Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair is outraged â€” though not surprised â€” by Truongâ€™s actions.
â€œYou could have gone to jail â€” you should have gone to jail â€” and now youâ€™re trying to sleaze out of your fine,â€ Sinclair said when advised this week of Truongâ€™s application. â€œIt makes a mockery of the justice system.â€
Truong, owner of H.V. Truong Ltd., appeared in B.C. Provincial Court in Surrey late last month to make his appeal to a judge.
According to Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie, Truong asked to have the $120,000 fine set aside on the basis that the farm where the mushroom company was located had been sold on behalf of a bank and the company was no longer in operation.
Truong was advised by the judge that the court did not have jurisdiction to set aside the fine and the application was dismissed.
Truong now has the option to try to appeal to a higher court, although appeals are usually filed within 30 days of a sentence being imposed.
On Sept. 5, 2008, two workers at a Langley mushroom farm and compost operation on 16th Avenue were in a shed trying to unclog a pipe on a water pump when they were overcome by toxic gases. Three other workers went to help, but also collapsed from the fumes.
Han Pham, Ut Tran and Jimmy Chan were pronounced dead at the scene. Thang Tchen and Michael Phan suffered severe brain injuries.
A WorkSafe B.C. investigation found that the water within the pump had become anaerobic from lack of use and had began to produce hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide and other toxic gases.
When the flange was loosened, the gases were released and could not dissipate because they were trapped in the confined space.
In May 2011, A-1 Mushroom Substratum Ltd., H.V. Truong Ltd., Ha Qua Truong, Van Thi Truong and Thinh Huu Doan pleaded guilty to 10 charges under the Occupational Health and Safety and Workersâ€™ Compensation Act.
In November of that year, a B.C. provincial court judge fined A-1 $200,000 plus $30,000 in victim surcharges, H.V. Truong $120,000 plus $18,000 in victim surcharges, Ha Qua Truong $15,000 plus $2,250 in victim surcharges, Van Thi Truong $5,000 plus $750 in victim surcharges and Doan $10,000 plus $1,500 in victim surcharges.
A-1 was ordered to pay within one year, H.V. Truong within two years, while the personal fines were to be paid within one year.
A-1 was dissolved in November 2011. It went bankrupt and has paid none of its fine.
H.V. Truong Ltd. has also paid none of its fine, although according to B.C. Registry services the company is not in liquidation or receivership and still has an active listing. According to B.C. Assessment records, Truongâ€™s 19-acre farm on 16th Ave. in Langley was sold on Jan. 31, 2013 for $3.65 million. It is currently assessed at just over $2.3 million.
The Truongs have paid their personal fines in full. Doan has paid $2,800 of his $10,000 fine.
The money, which is collected by the provincial government, goes into a WorkSafe B.C. fund to pay for victim programs.
â€œCould somebody remind people that three workers are dead and two are in a vegetative state because of (the companyâ€™s) complete negligence in this case?â€ Sinclair said in a telephone interview from Quebec.â€
He said that ineffective fines and a de facto ban on jail sentences send the message that the lives of workers donâ€™t matter and there are no consequences for negligent business owners.
â€œThe people that really face the consequences are the families,â€ Sinclair said. â€œThe system is broken, thatâ€™s the bottom line.â€
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