Sunshine Village’s communications to Parks Canada only serve to further confuse public safety timelines of January 19th, 2011.
When it comes to issues of public and workplace safety comunications at Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort there is no excuse for anything but the truth at all times. The company should be held to an exacting standard of corporate conduct as a condition of its lease. This is especially applicable when the issue is about the safety of people’s lives and well-being in Canada’s premier national park. Not only do park visitors, customers, employees and government agencies deserve honesty but it’s also a legal obligation.
So has the Sunshine Village management been honest, forthright and truthful with all groups regarding the events and safety issues of January 19, 2011 ?
hon·esthonorable in principles, intentions, and actions; upright and fair: an honest person.
To lie is to hold something which one knows is not the whole truth to be the whole truth, intentionally.
On the day in question Doug Firby (Sunshine media handler) spoke to the media about a patrol “walkout” that day and expressed the company’s surprise about the whole thing. Firby told the media that Sunshine Village had no knowledge of what he termed “morale issues” raised by the patrollers. He said that Sunshine took the patrollers “at their word” (such irony), hoped they all got well soon and came back to work. He encouraged them to speak to management promising they would be heard and all would be well again. The next day, when the patrollers took Firby at his word, two of them were fired when they returned to work and the rest were questioned and threatened.
Sunshine Village Watch has previously shown that at the same time that Doug Firby was presenting this disarming official corporate line to the media, an internal email from Steve Novak (Aramark’s Sunshine Village GM) showed what the management actually knew about the “issues” and instructed the resort’s Food and Beverage staff to lie about it to Sunshine’s paying customers. Novak attributes this lie to “Sunshine management” (an interesting example of their management and leadership style). So while many of Sunshine’s professional ski patrollers, in the midst of unprecedented peak-season department changes, were taking desperate measures to get attention to their immediate safety concerns, Sunshine was telling resort staff to lie to Sunshine’s customers and tell them it’s an “unexpected lift interruption”. The email claims that Sunshine’s paying guests didn’t need to know the truth of the matter.
Then Parks Canada got involved. Parks Canada is the federal government agency charged with administering the lease provisions including those that are meant to ensure that public safety requirements are met (paragraph 29). The expectation of all Canadians is that even if the private corporation is off-track, Parks Canada will ensure safety standards are upheld. The emails and letters to Parks Canada show that Ken Derpak (then Sunshine Village GM, VP of Operations and acting Mountain Manager) came up with his own version of the timeline of events in his communications to then Banff Superintendent Van Tighem.
In his amusingly petulant letter of March 4th, 2011 Derpak states that Sunshine called Alberta’s lift regulatory agency AEDARSA on the morning of January 19th “prior to opening” and discussed Sunshine’s operating plan with them. So presumably well before Doug Firby was telling the media his “we know nothing” story later that day, we have Ken Derpak claiming to discuss an alternative, presumably detailed and hopefully written gondola evacuation plan with AEDARSA before opening the gondola to employees arriving for work that morning (usually at 7:30am). He must have been moving very fast, very early that morning to ensure that “all necessary safety precautions” were addressed as per the lease requirement, which of course is strange given that Doug Firby said they “knew nothing” and so consequently would have known nothing until patrollers didn’t show for work (usually around 7:30am).
In the same letter Derpak tells Parks Canada that Sunshine had already made a back-up plan and contracted with Rodney Gair and Lifeskill Rescue Services prior to January 19, 2011. In his email of January 21, 2011 Derpak included a written note from Rodney Gair that was coincidentally dated January 19, 2011 and stated that Lifeskill had agreed to provide services that week with “immediate effect”. So is it just coincidence that Derpak had developed an arrangement that very week with Gair supposedly prior to January 19th when Firby later says the company knew nothing of any “morale issues” with the patrollers?
Does any of this really matter? The answer is YES, it really does! Very much! When fully loaded, the Sunshine Village gondola carries more people through the air than many commercial airplanes and there’s plenty that can and does go wrong. Evacuating the full length of the gondola (both sides) would be an extremely challenging public safety emergency requiring precise site-specific planning, training and implementation. You don’t make this stuff up on-the-fly on the back of a breakfast napkin. In his letter, Derpak is making formal representations on behalf of Sunshine Village to a formal inquiry from the federal agency charged with ensuring public safety in Banff National Park. What Sunshine management knew, when it knew, what actions it took and why it took them all needs to be very clear and transparent. Under examination here is the ability of Sunshine Village to make appropriate public safety decisions for park visitors even when they may negatively impact the corporations profit and image. Unfortunately Derpak’s unsubstantive letter only raises more questions about that.
It is appropriate for Sunshine Village to publicly clarify exactly who Derpak spoke to at AEDARSA and exactly when the communication occurred. This information can then be verified with AEDARSA (surely both sides documented such a discussion?). Derpak should also provide the written evidence of the comprehensive alternative gondola evacuation plan that he discussed with AEDARSA that morning , which apparently replaced the standard procedure that day, and which was presumably and verifiably distributed to ALL managers, dispatch and key response staff PRIOR to opening the gondola to Sunshine staff that morning (yes even employees on their way to work are people too). Those documents would begin to support Derpak’s version of events and even explain (maybe) his disrespectful and petulant manner. They would also help to establish Sunshine Village’s compliance on January 19th, 2011 with AEDARSA‘s public safety ski lift regulations (CSA Z98 Code) and the Parks Canada lease obligations.
Without that definitive supporting evidence Derpak has simply added more puffery to a tangled web of words. However in unexpected balance, the email from Steve Novak to his F&B staff was quite clear. Sunshine management was certainly lying to their customers that day – Novak, to his credit, was refreshingly honest about that fact. The question now is, if they will lie to their customers, are they being honest with Parks Canada?