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Engineer who drowned on the job may have been impaired, defence argues

Lawyers for the companies charged in relation to Andrew Gnazdowsky's death made new submission on Friday after a decision from another case involving a workplace death in Darmouth, N.S.  (Submitted by Nicole Gnazdowsky  - image credit)
Lawyers for the companies charged in relation to Andrew Gnazdowsky's death made new submission on Friday after a decision from another case involving a workplace death in Darmouth, N.S. (Submitted by Nicole Gnazdowsky - image credit)

Blood samples taken from an engineer suggest he could have been impaired by cannabis when he drowned in a Nova Scotia Power reservoir in 2020, according to new arguments by lawyers for the companies charged in relation to his death.

Andrew Gnazdowsky, 26, drowned on Oct. 16, 2020, while swimming to retrieve a piece of floating surveying equipment that had malfunctioned in the Marshall Falls reservoir in Sheet Harbour, N.S.

Nova Scotia Power, Brunswick Engineering and Consulting Inc. of Saint John, the company Gnazdowsky worked for, and Gemtec Consulting Engineering and Scientists Ltd. of Fredericton are facing charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

In Halifax provincial court Friday, defence lawyers argued the companies should be acquitted because of the significant levels of THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, found in Gnazdowsky's blood after his death.

A trial for the case wrapped up last fall, but Judge Elizabeth Buckle has not yet given her decision. Since the trial, a decision in another case has examined the role of THC in a different workplace death.

Defence lawyers on Friday pointed to the case of Brandon Alcorn, who fell from the Kent Building Supplies store that was under construction in Dartmouth, N.S., in March 2018. Jeff Gooch, the supervisor and foreman for Insulated Panel Structures, was charged with criminal negligence.

In January, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Timothy Gabriel cleared Gooch of the charge because he said Alcorn was likely intoxicated when he fell more than five metres to the ground.

Both delta-carboxy THC and delta-9 THC were found in the samples of Alcorn's blood taken before his death, a toxicologist testified at the trial.

Brandon Alcorn died on Tuesday after he fell while working at the construction site for the new Kent Building Supplies Store in Dartmouth Crossing.
Brandon Alcorn died on Tuesday after he fell while working at the construction site for the new Kent Building Supplies Store in Dartmouth Crossing.

Brandon Alcorn died in March 2018 after he fell while working at the construction site in Dartmouth Crossing. His foreman was cleared of criminal negligence charges after a judge ruled Alcorn was impaired on the job. (Submitted by Janice Way)

Brad Proctor, the lawyer for Gemtec, noted in court on Friday that Gnazdowsky had even higher levels of THC in his blood than Alcorn did.

Proctor, and the lawyers for Brunswick Engineering and Nova Scotia Power, argue the companies should be found not guilty because there's no way they could foresee Gnazdowsky's judgment would be impaired and that he would decide to swim after a piece of equipment.

Crown Attorney Alex Keaveny said THC can be detected in blood or urine long after smoking or ingesting cannabis products, and said Gnazdowsky's supervisor testified there were no signs he was impaired.

"You have no evidence Andrew was impaired," Keaveny said. "You have lots of evidence he wasn't."

He said there was no resemblance between the incidents involving Alcorn and Gnazdowsky. An expert testified at trial it's impossible to determine if the THC levels in Gnazdowsky affected his judgment on the day he died, he said.

Keaveny said Nova Scotia Power's alcohol and drug policy is detailed, and not only should the company foresee that employees could be impaired, it should be actively looking for signs of it.

However, none of Gnazdowsky's supervisors reported anything unusual about his behaviour on the day he died.

The matter is scheduled to return to Halifax provincial court for a decision on June 18.