Apr 23, 2003

Ontario Files Charges in Tainted Water Scandal

Two brothers who ran the water system in Walkerton, Ontario, where seven people died three years ago after drinking from a bacteria-tainted water supply, were charged today with endangering the public, according to Rajiv Sekhri of Reuters.
Stan and Frank Koebel will appear in a Walkerton court on June 10, accused of failing to monitor, sample and test the small farming community's well water — a criminal charge referred to as public endangerment, and with forging and falsifying documents, and with breach of trust.
Nearly half of Walkerton's 5,000 residents fell sick in May 2000 because the water system was contaminated by a deadly strain of the E.Coli bacteria when cow manure waste washed into one of the town wells.
Some observers had urged harsh punishment for the brothers, but detective inspector Paul Chaytor indicated that no other charges would be forthcoming.
Stan Koebel, who was manager of Walkerton's Public Utilities Commission, faces seven charges. Frank Koebel was foreman and faces five.
Bill Trudell, a lawyer for Stan Koebel, said his client will plead not guilty.
"It was very clear that a lot of people didn't do their duty, and what is of concern is that these charges are focused on Stan and Frank Koebel in relation to how they did their job. I leave it to others to decide whether the optics of that are fair," Trudell said.
During a judicial inquiry into the water scandal both brothers admitted they had falsified water test results and faked daily log entries.
But Ontario Associate Chief Justice Dennis O'Connor said in his final report released in May, 2002, that that the brothers had not intended to hurt anyone.
O'Connor also took Ontario's Conservative government to task for failing to properly assess the risks attached to its cost-cutting measures. He also faulted the Ministry of the Environment for failing to enforce its own policies and its inadequate oversight of the Walkerton water system.
"The laying of these charges is a step backward ... is an insult to the appearance of fairness," Trudell said.