NICOLE GNAZDOWSKY KNOWS THE CRUEL TRUTH. She knows her brother Andrew is dead. What she doesn’t know is why and how. More than that, she doesn’t know—and can’t explain—why she is the one working the hardest to find out.
Andrew Gnazdowsky was killed on the job in October 2020. He was working on a survey under water near a dam at the Nova Scotia Power Marshall Falls reservoir in Sheet Harbour.
When a piece of equipment malfunctioned, Andrew swam out to fix it. He drowned. His body wasn’t retrieved until the next day.
That was all Nicole was told. It wasn’t enough. She needed and wanted to know more. She needed her brother to be more than just another sad statistic. She expected the authorities to be the first to understand that need. They weren’t.
Looking for answers
Nicole has worked hard to get answers that should have been easy and automatic. She has prodded, pestered and cajoled the Department of Labour to do right by her brother with a full and proper investigation—instead of the deeply flawed effort so far.
The family buried Andrew at the end of October. They heard nothing more about the case. The few details they had came from information Nicole gleaned from coworkers on the day of Andrew’s death.
“It was just like, the expectation was to go to a site, do an identification and then drive home and plan a funeral, and nobody ever bothers to tell you why, or how you ended up in that position,” Nicole told the Halifax Examiner.
“There’s no information available, or person available to help you navigate what you’re about to face—or even to give you any information about anything.”
Nicole eventually found her way to Courtney Donovan, the Occupational Health and Safety investigator on the case.
Donovan wouldn’t provide any information, refusing to answer questions about Andrew’s injuries or where the investigation was leading.
Potential conflict of interest
The information blackout was made worse when Donovan failed to meet her own February deadline to deliver her final report. Then Nicole discovered Donovan might not be completely unbiased.
A LinkedIn search revealed Donovan had worked for Emera—the parent company that owns the Nova Scotia Power site where Andrew died.
“To know that that’s who was in charge of the investigation was just shocking,” says Nicole.
Nicole contacted her MLA, then newly sworn-in Premier Iain Rankin, for help. Soon after she got a call from Scott Burbridge, Donovan’s boss and the manager of investigations, who eventually assigned a different lead investigator on the file.
More flubs and flaws
Another point that stuck out for Nicole was that Burbridge was unaware of the significant injuries to her brother’s face that Nicole saw. The autopsy didn’t note the injuries either. However, the funeral director confirms he saw them also.
Another troubling fact is a clear error in the autopsy report. It said Andrew died on October 17, the day he was pulled from the water. But Andrew drowned on October 16.
The dam was closed off on the 17th, but not the 16th. If a gate in the dam was left open it could have sucked Andrew in. Exactly as had happened to a worker at a Nova Scotia Power dam in Annapolis Royal in 2015.
Nicole also dug up reports on Nova Scotia Power’s own safety protocols, requiring a safety plan for such work sites. Whether or not such a safety plan existed is another question that needs to be answered.
“They just weren’t asking the questions. So I did. And then I brought all the answers to them,” Nicole says of the Department of Labour.
Burbridge originally told Nicole they weren’t considering charges against Nova Scotia Power, just its contractors. She’s hopeful that’s now changed.
Nicole got a meeting last month with Duff Montgomerie, the deputy minister of the department. “He came into the room and knew not a single detail about my brother’s case, like didn’t even know the date,” says Nicole.
After the meeting, Nicole emailed Montgomerie to express her dissatisfaction. He replied with an attached PDF on how to deal with the grieving process.
Don’t know. Don’t care.
Nicole says, “The bare minimum, as a person, that you could have provided, Duff, would be some kindness, some compassion, some commitment to fix these issues, but they’re not getting fixed because Duff Montgomerie doesn’t care.”
Nicole hopes for change, and that in the future, families who lose loved ones at work won’t have to conduct their own investigations to get answers.
“It’s like we jumped the queue, like there’s so many people ready and waiting for their answers but they won’t get them … unless you do it yourself,” she said.
“But the reality is that you’ll never get any information because it doesn’t exist.”
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