Canada’s police said Monday they have launched an investigation into a pandemic death — a first in the country — after the victim’s family accused his employer of criminal negligence.
Benito Quesada, a 51-year-old immigrant from Mexico, died in hospital in May last year, weeks after he and hundreds of co-workers at a Cargill meat packing plant in High River, Alberta were infected with the novel coronavirus.
“The RCMP is investigating allegations that Cargill was criminally involved in the death of an employee who subsequently passed away from Covid-19,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Corporal Tammy Keibel told AFP.
“It’s still early,” she added. “Right now we’re looking at a package of information (provided by the family) to see if there is any element of criminality by Cargill.”
Nearly half the 2,000 workers at the plant tested positive for Covid-19 in early May in what remains the country’s largest workplace outbreak.
Most businesses were ordered shuttered at the onset of the pandemic but slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants were deemed essential and allowed to continue operating.
Quesada’s family filed a police complaint on Friday alleging that Minnesota-based Cargill failed to protect workers.
They accused the company of not providing staff with adequate protective gear, not having workers socially distanced and of clearing workers for duty despite positive Covid-19 tests or symptoms.
They also allege that Cargill threatened to temporarily lay off anyone who didn’t show up for work, and offered a Can$500 (US$400) bonus to those who did not miss a shift.
Quesada’s family said he was motivated by the bonus to continue to go to work.
His 16-year-old daughter Ariana Quesada told public broadcaster CBC a police complaint was filed in order “to finally bring justice to my dad… to finally hold Cargill accountable for what they did.”
“I spent Christmas with one less person to hug,” she said, holding back tears. “And all the executives and general managers, everyone at Cargill, got to spend Christmas with their loved ones.”