A Tangled Web !

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 ?  


honorable 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?

To keep up with further updates and discussion of this issue please follow Sunshine Village Watch on Facebook or Twitter

A Workplace Safety Culture Is Not Built With Shell Games !!

In the wake of the Karl Stunt fatality, Sunshine Village talked up its new commitment to worker safety.  However, a true commitment to workplace safety requires a fundamental good-faith management commitment to implement a real safety culture.  Workplace safety is not about Public Relations platitudes, its about consistent actions of corporate integrity and core values that always put the safety interests of workers FIRST!  It has to come from the top.  Talk is cheap and plentiful but don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do!

A shell game, also called Cups And Balls Trick,  is one of the oldest and most popular of the tricks traditionally performed by a conjurer. …The manipulative work is aided by the distracting conversation, or patter, of the conjurer. (Encyclopedia Brittanica)

The idea is, no matter what anyone says or does to distract you, always try to keep your eye on where the ball is at all times!  It’s not always easy….

On January 30th, 2009 Sunshine Village was found guilty of failing to ensure the health and safety of its workers.

At the time, Doug Firby (Sunshine Village Associate Director, Communications, Media and Marketing) made a statement to the media: “This was a very, very sad situation,” Firby said of the incident, the first of its kind in the 80-year history of Sunshine Village. An independent safety audit recently determined that Sunshine’s current worker safety “is at a very high level,” he said, adding: “That’s still not good enough for us.”

Doug Firby

Firby said the company has hired another safety consultant to make sure that “everything is as good as it can possibly be. This has had a profound effect on the ownership and the staff at Sunshine. We want to make sure it never happens again.”

Well, that sounds inspiring and positive!  Lesson learned maybe?   But meanwhile, back on the ski hill…

The “safety consultant” referred to in Firby’s story was Dennis Allen , a Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) who was contracted by Sunshine Village to help Sunshine Village pass a COR audit.

“In accepting the Code of Ethics, each CRSP pledges to subscribe not only to the letter but also to the spirit of the Code in all of their professional activities.”(emphasis added) ~ BCRSP Code of Ethics

Around the same time that  PR pointman Doug Firby was smoothly delivering his carefully scripted, post-judgement, damage-control “never again” message to the media, Ken Derpak (VP Operations & General Manager) was sending Ski Patrol staff onto the roofs of buildings after hours in known contravention of the Alberta Occupational Health & Safety Code Part 9 (Fall Protection) to shovel overhanging snow hazards and remove cornices. A small crew of Patrol staff agreed to do the job so that untrained, inexperienced staff did not get sent to do it.  The Patrollers were  already trained in rope rescue techniques and used these skills to provide some level of safety on the roofs  It was understood that this interim measure still failed to meet the Code but would give Sunshine Village an opportunity to become Code compliant.  The agreement with Derpak was that Patrol staff would do the job for the 08/09 winter season if Sunshine embarked on an ongoing program to install fall protection systems the following summer.

Now, keep your eye on that ball here…

In the midst of the court decision, safety audit and associated PR campaign an executive management decision was made about the rooftop snow shovelling safety code problem.   Ken Derpak apparently decided to create some “distance” between Sunshine Village Corporation and the workers he was sending up on the roofs.  Derpak set up an arrangement to pay them through Dennis Allen’s external safety consulting business.  Dennis Allen had nothing to do with planning the work, providing the workers or overseeing the job yet for some reason the Sunshine workers were paid through his business although in fact he had no direct contact with the Sunshine staff that suddenly got put on his payroll.    When the Patrol staff questioned the reason for this “policy” no reasonable explanation for the edict was given by Derpak but it was the way it would be.   Other than the paychecks issued, there was apparently no other formal “paper trail” generated.  No employment records, no pay statements, no T4s.  More notably Dennis Allen’s safety company, which was now “responsible” for ensuring the health & safety of the workers, did no hazard identification, no risk analysis, no written safe work plan and no training checklist.  The work went ahead, but it seemed like a strange way to be making sure everything was “as good as it can possibly be”.

Creating a safe and healthy workplace requires a commitment of time and money to create a culture and positive accountability system that makes safe work possible. It requires that the company create a safe work environment and set of safe behaviours that can be seen in not only the results (less injuries and illness) but be viewed in the process of work. Very safe companies not only have the documented process of creating safety, but they can demonstrate by the way they work that safety is the “way it is around here.” (Emphasis added) ~ Failure In Alberta” by Alan D. Quilley CRSP ( June 21, 2010)


A (Calgary)Herald investigation published in June (2010) found that between 2003 and 2007, the province rarely prosecuted companies for safety breaches linked to fatalities on the job. In April (2010), the (Alberta) auditor general criticized the government for inadequately cracking down on employers who repeatedly break safety laws.  The Alberta Federation of Labour wants the province to unveil a plan for more aggressive prosecutions. “Employers must be made to pay the price for putting the workers’ lives at risk, but this is still not being done,” Nancy Furlong of the Alberta Federation of Labour said. ~ Alberta employment minister vows ‘hammer’ will come down on workplace safety violators (Sept 03, 2010)

Even where a system was installed on the roof of the main Sunshine Mountain Lodge, it was improperly supervised and maintained. This photograph shows a synthetic lifeline negligently left out on the roof to be buried in snow and stretched by snow creep. This also evidences inadequate training and disregard for following documented safe work procedures.

Only a few months later, in the summer of 2009 when the new multi-million dollar wing of the Sunshine Mountain Lodge was built, there was no budget for a consultant recommended rooftop fall protection system. Sunshine Village boasted about its Banff Heritage Tourism Award for the new building but failed to prioritise installation of Code required worker safety systems during its construction.   John Scurfield (VP Marketing and part-owner) described the building as an example of the Scurfield family’s “latest commitment to excellence”. Whatever kind of excellence he’s referring to, it’s not workplace safety code compliance.   That wasn’t in the budget.

Two and a half years later, Sunshine Village has yet to install OH&S Code compliant fall protection systems on all but one Village buildings requiring rooftop snow and cornice removal.  Sunshine still places workers on roofs in known breach of the OH&S Code.  Meanwhile there has been a massive exodus of senior staff in safety related roles.  Despite Firby’s public promise that Sunshine “wants to make sure it never happens again” an internal Sunshine Village memo issued in summer 2010 (while $millions were being spent on the new Strawberry lift and Creekside renovation.) stated that; “Unfortunately there is no budget to continue installation of more fall protection on roofs at this time. ”  That’s a distinctly different message than the one Doug Firby was delivering to the media in January 2009.

On July 1, 2011, the Government of Alberta will tighten up the guidelines for obtaining and maintaing COR certification of Health & Safety Programs.  Let’s hope something changes because of it !  Workplace safety is a matter of urgent public interest and concern.  Parks Canada should make strict annual external COR audits a standard requirement for private corporations like Sunshine Village that hold operational leases in Canada’s national parks.  It’s time that all levels of government get serious about workplace safety and hold corporations accountable for action.    Workers are dying on the job in Alberta.  The Code is there for a reason This is no game!

A Young Worker’s Life Under Rug Swept!

Sunshine Village donates $50,000 to Selkirk College but forgets to mention worker killed on the job.

Karl Stunt – Killed on the job at Sunshine Village – August 31, 2004

Karl Stunt was killed on the job at Sunshine Village on August 31, 2004.  He was one of the all too many workers who are killed on the job in Alberta every year.  As a result of the workplace fatality Sunshine Village Corporation was found guilty of failing to ensure the health & safety of its workers.  Sunshine Village was fined and ordered to pay an additional $250,000 to Selkirk College in BC .  This endowment was intended to honour the memory of Karl Stunt and to raise awareness of workplace safety amongst students in the Ski Resort Operations and Management Program.

Sunshine Village Corporation put its lawyers to work and in 2010 succesfully appealed the decision claiming it could not have foreseen the incident.  That contraversial finding was never tested as Alberta Employment and Immigration mistakenly chose not to continue with the case.  Sunshine paid it’s lawyers but chose at the time not to proceed with the endowment.

Because the scholarship was part of the original conviction and sentence, which has now been overturned, ski hill operators aren’t obligated to go ahead with it, resort spokesman, Doug Firby, said Sunday.Alberta ski lift worker’s ‘legacy’ lost: family” (CBC – August 2, 2010)

Karl’s father – Bill Stunt – expressed his sadness and dissapointment at the time.  “It’s the one small thing that we had out of this almost six-year process was some kind of legacy for Karl in a way that … could have done some good for some other person in his circumstance working in the ski industry,” he said.

On May 17, 2011 Sunshine Village announced a donation to Selkirk College of $50,000.  The mainstream media picked up the feed and parrotted it.  Only the Rocky Mountain Outlook drew the connection (see clipping below) and noted that not only was the endowment but a fraction of the original court-ordered payment but that also there was absolutely no mention of Karl Stunt, whose life it was originally intended to honour.

A belated and paltry $50,000 is better than nothing, but compared to a life it’s not much.  Sadly though the ski management graduates of the Selkirk program will not learn of that lost life and the safety awareness cause originally intended as the endowment’s purpose.  Sunshine Village has killed that opportunity it seems.   Maybe, seven years after Stunt’s death,  that’s just the way Sunshine Village wants it.