Speaking up for change

A brave mother shares her experience and advocates for workplace safety changes in the maritime industry so that no one ever has to suffer a loss like she has. 

Photo of Charley and Genevieve Cragg at a winery.

Charley and Genevieve Cragg. Photo courtesy of Genevieve Cragg.

“It was 100 percent predictable and 100 percent preventable.” That’s how Genevieve Cragg describes the incident that took the life of her 25-year-old son Charley in February 2021.

Charley was on board the MV Ingenika, a small tugboat scheduled for a 10-hour journey through the Gardner Canal from Kitimat to Kemano. Although he was no stranger to the water, it was Charley’s first time on a tug. Sea time is a requirement in the maritime industry, and Charley’s goal was to work for the Canadian Coast Guard. But the trip he and two others — 58-year-old captain Troy and 19-year-old first mate Zac — embarked on was anything but routine.

Temperatures of -20 Celsius and wind gusts of more than 50 knots were in the weather forecast, but the crew was scheduled to sail. The tug and the crew were unprepared and not equipped to handle such treacherous weather and freezing spray. As the underpowered tug turned a corner in the Gardner Canal, it stopped in its tracks. The crew was unable to deploy the tug release, and the barge, which was much too large for the Ingenika, sailed right over them. The tug capsized and sank. Charley and Troy did not survive.

“My son had spent his life in and around the water, but there were too many factors that played against him that day,” Genevieve says. “A forecasted severe storm, an oversized barge, an underpowered tug, a lack of training and certificates, and equipment failure made an already challenging job far too risky. Charley paid the ultimate price.”

Today, Genevieve bravely shares her experience and advocates for workplace safety changes in the maritime industry so that no one ever has to suffer a loss like she has.

On April 28, she will be speaking at the Day of Mourning ceremony at Jack Poole Plaza. She hopes to send a clear message: If industry puts profits before safety, workers’ lives are at risk.

She also wants to encourage workers — regardless of age or experience — to ask questions.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” she says. “There can be a lot of macho behaviour in these types of industries where people might be afraid to ask questions or speak up if something is unsafe. My son trusted that his employer wouldn’t put him in a dangerous spot. Unfortunately, he was wrong, and that day, it cost him his life.”

Remembering those who died from workplace injuries or illnesses

Every year on April 28, people gather at Day of Mourning ceremonies held across Canada to honour those who have lost their lives to workplace injuries or illnesses. In B.C. in 2023, 175 workers died. More than half of those deaths resulted from occupational disease (such as illnesses linked to asbestos exposure).

The Day of Mourning is an opportunity to remember these fallen workers. But it’s also a chance to recommit ourselves to joint action that involves everyone — employers, workers, supervisors, and other stakeholders — working together to reduce the risk of injury, disease, and death.

When I asked Genevieve what keeps her going, she said: “Charley did not want to die that day. It’s his voice in my head that keeps me going and gives me the fire in my belly to keep advocating for change. Everyone wants to come home to their families. I know if I can save one life, then Charley’s death won’t have been for nothing.”

Learn more

Visit the Day of Mourning website for information about ceremonies in your community, to find resources, or to read worker and family stories. On April 28, let’s pause to remember that each of us has a role to play in making workplaces safer.

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