Andrew Gnazdowsky with his dog Ellie. Credit: Contributed

A year after he died, the family of a man killed on the job has notified the provincial government of its intention to sue for negligence.

Andrew Gnazdowsky, 26, died at Nova Scotia Power’s Marshall Falls reservoir in Sheet Harbour on Oct. 16, 2020. Gnazdowsky was on the site working for a New Brunswick company that was subcontracted to survey under water near a dam, and drowned when he went into the water to try to mend a piece of malfunctioning equipment.

Since his death, Andrew’s sister Nicole Gnazdowsky has fought for answers. As the Halifax Examiner reported in May, she’s met resistance at every turn, and concluded that the provincial Department of Labour “botched” the investigation, identifying a potential conflict of interest and a flawed medical examiner’s report. Since then, the department has stopped communicating with Gnazdowsky, labelling her a “hostile individual” in documents uncovered through freedom of information, as reported by Lyndsay Armstrong at The Coast.

On Friday, Gnazdowsky took the next step in her quest for answers, and served the provincial departments of justice and labour with a notice of intended action on behalf of her parents and her brother’s estate.

The notice of intended action means that in two months the family can file a lawsuit in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, as per the Proceedings against the Crown Act.

The notice tells the government that the family will make a claim “for negligence contributing to or causing the incident in which the Intended Plaintiffs suffered serious injury and death.

“It will be alleged that the Intended Defendant failed to provide adequate guidelines and standard requirements for the operation, maintenance, and overall overseeing of dam usage.”

The family also signalled it will allege that the government “failed to properly investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident and the events that led to the incident and the death of Andrew Gnazdowsky.”

The notice provides a list of ways the government is allegedly negligent, including that it “Chose not to review dam safety protocols and standards adequately;” “Chose not to follow the established procedures and policies in place to ensure compliance with dam safety protocols and standards;” and “Chose to perform the autopsy of Andrew Gnazdowsky in a negligent manner.”

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

In an interview on Monday, Gnazdowsky said the family had also prepared notice for the companies involved in her brother’s death — Nova Scotia Power, GEMTEC and Brunswick Engineering. Gnazdowsky said the family decided to serve only the province “because this is where I think that the greatest impact will lie.”

“Ultimately it is the government’s job in this process to hold the companies accountable and they said that they were going to,” Gnazdowsky said.

“I’m holding them to it.”

Andrew and Nicole Gnazdowsky Credit: Contributed

There’s also the legal structure around workers’ compensation in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, where Andrew Gnazdowsky was actually employed. In both provinces, families give up their right to sue when they receive benefits from the board, which the Gnazdowskys did.

The anniversary of her brother’s death passed on Saturday, but Gnazdowsky said it wasn’t really different from any other day.

“I think what scares me more is not the one year anniversary, it’s like the fact that this is now going to be two Christmases, two of his birthdays and then three,” she said.

Looking back over the last year though, she can’t believe all she’s had to do, and continues to do to try to get justice for her brother.

“I can’t believe that now I’m going to have to take on a second premier in this situation,” Gnazdowsky said, “like where’s Tim now?”

Liberal leader Iain Rankin, also Gnazdowsky’s MLA, stopped responding to her calls and emails before the election. During the campaign, Premier Tim Houston spoke to Gnazdowsky about the investigation into her brother’s death. Since being elected, Gnazdowsky has received a letter from the premier, but when she’s asked for a meeting, she hasn’t heard back.

“You know that you owe me a call at this point, at a minimum,” she said.

As for the Department of Labour investigation into Gnazdowsky’s brother’s death, another non-update came earlier this month from the Department of Justice, and it will be the last.

“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,” department director Karen Anthony wrote.

“You have indicated that these updates are not meeting with your satisfaction. As such, and while we remain focused 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.”

The department has one more year to lay charges.

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. How many other workplace injuries and deaths have been quieted down with dismissive torts by the Labor Department in concert with the government?

    US citizens sue for “wrongful death”, which is based on the balance of probabilities. 50 +1 means the probable death was caused by lack of care and duty to the employee by employers. Ordinary citizens could understand what the odds are for winning a case based on on a civil tort of probabilities and at the same time dispense with bureaucratic stalls.

    A labour department and government investigating criminal negligence is harder to prove beyond a reasonable doubt and can take years to evolve with no admission or financial compensation to the ones left behind. A civil case (50 +1) proving negligence, in my view, will give more exposure to the alleged wrongdoing and wrongful death than waiting for government and labour to investigate.

  2. A completely useless bureaucracy, or a cover up on the part of the Dept. of Labour, seems like it has to be one of the two. Any competent investigator should only need a week to sort out the details of this needless death.

    In simple terms, no Safe Work Procedure (required by law for this type of work) anywhere, ever, would list swimming alone as an acceptable retrieval method. All participants in the work activity are to be made well aware of the risks and rules. Responsibility is written into the Labour Code, culpability is there as well.

    The family’s frustration is well founded. It doesn’t take a year to figure this out.