Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Woman to sue province over brother’s death

26-year-old drowned at reservoir

  • October 20 2021
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    

SHEET HARBOUR – A Halifax woman, frustrated by bureaucratic foot-dragging, is suing the Nova Scotia government for negligence relating to the death of her brother at a Nova Scotia Power (NSP) reservoir in Sheet Harbour a year ago.

According to a Notice of Intended Action filed with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court last week, Nicole Gnazdowsky – who also wants a full, independent inquiry – is alleging that the Attorney General of Nova Scotia and Departments of Justice, and Labour, Skills and Immigration failed to “provide adequate guidelines and standard requirements for the operation, maintenance, and overall overseeing of dam usage” and to “properly investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident and the events that led to the incident and the death.”

The notice – which lists Nicole’s parents as plaintiffs and her as their representative – also states the defendants “chose not to take appropriate action within a reasonable timeframe” and “chose to perform the autopsy in a negligent manner.”

Andrew Gnazdowsky drowned while attempting to recover a piece of equipment at a dam in the Marshall Falls waterbody near Sheet Harbour on Oct. 16, 2020. At the time, the 26-year-old civil engineer was working for a private company that had been hired to conduct a survey of the site floor, which forms part of NSP’s hydroelectric generating system.

In an interview with The Journal last week, Gnazdowsky said, “This isn’t something that I want to do. All I have been wanting is for somebody to stand up and say, ‘Okay, it’s not okay and we’re going to look at this.’ But the fact that I can’t find anybody to examine any of the issues around this [incident] is crazy. Who, then, is responsible? I want an independent inquiry and I want the system fixed.”

Gnazdowsky, who has been trying to get to the bottom of her brother’s death for months, says she has encountered obstruction, miscommunication and even hostility from various provincial employees who have up to two years to complete their investigation into the case. She has also been vocal about her criticisms of the system, giving candid interviews to the press and posting comments to social media.

In an Oct. 6 tweet, Gnazdowsky shared a copy of a memo she’d just received from Karen Anthony, Director, Nova Scotia Department of Justice, writing on behalf of the Occupational Health and Safety Division of the Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration:

As your monthly update, please be advised that the Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration continues the investigation into Andrew’s death. While we cannot share specific information as it may negatively impact any potential prosecution, we want to assure you that this important work by the investigative team continues.”

The memo goes on to say: “You have indicated that these updates are not meeting with your satisfaction. As such, and while we remain focussed on the investigation, this will be our final correspondence with you until the investigation is concluded. We will share information with you at that time to provide you with the findings.”

In a statement emailed to The Journal last week, Department of Labour spokesperson Monica Maclean said, “Mr. Gnazdowsky’s death remains the focus of an active investigation into a tragic, workplace fatality. We need to be thorough in our pursuit to find out why a workplace fatality occurred; investigations can take up to two years to complete and lay charges. Our sympathies go out to the Gnazdowsky family, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to them as we approach the first anniversary of Andrew’s death.”

Regarding the threat of legal action by Gnazdowsky, she said: “We cannot comment on an active investigation or any legal action that may occur.”

None of the allegations in the Notice of Intent – the preliminary step to filing a formal lawsuit – have been proven in court, and Gnazdowsky is under no illusions about the legal route she’s chosen, or the possibility of compensation.

“This was never going to be about money,” she said. “There is no option of settlement in this. It was more about where the greatest chance for impactful change would be, and that’s with holding the government accountable. I want them to feel like they need to do the right thing. My brother was two years younger than me. He was my only sibling. He was my buddy for life. So, if they think that one year is going to wear me down, they are wrong. You guys destroyed my family’s life.”