The Cargill beef plant in High River, Alta., is shown on Thursday, April 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Alberta RCMP reviewing whether COVID-19 death of meat-plant worker was criminal

Alberta RCMP reviewing whether COVID-19 death of meat-plant worker was criminal

CALGARY — RCMP in Alberta are reviewing whether the COVID-19 death of a worker at a Cargill Ltd. meat-packing plant last spring is a criminal matter.

One of the worker’s family members dropped off an information package at the RCMP’s High River detachment south of Calgary last week, media relations officer Cpl. Tammy Keibel said Monday.

Keibel said the Foothills County RCMP and the southern Alberta district’s general investigations section are looking into “what, if any, criminality is associated with that incident.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 said in a statement that Benito Quesada’s family took a courageous step by asking police to investigate Cargill for criminal negligence.

Quesada, a 51-year-old shop steward with the union, was one of two workers at Cargill’s beef plant near High River to die from COVID-19 when the virus infected nearly half of 2,200 employees last spring.

He became sick in April and died May 7. His union colleagues said he was a quiet, gentle and humble man who came to Canada from Mexico to work for Cargill.

“Benito’s death was a tragedy,” the union said in a statement Monday.

“As a union shop steward, Benito stood up for his co-workers every day. The best way we can honour Benito is to stand by his family as they stand up for him.”

Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan said the company hadn’t seen the complaint or been contacted by the RCMP, so he couldn’t comment.

“I can share that at Cargill the safety of our employees is our top priority,” he said in an emailed statement.

“Maintaining a safe workplace has long been one of our core values and we recognize that the well-being of our plant employees is integral to our business and to the continuity of the food supply chain throughout Canada.”

Cargill has worked with health authorities to add pandemic safety measures that were approved by Alberta Health Services and Occupational Health and Safety, Sullivan added.

A class-action lawsuit filed against Cargill last summer alleges the company failed to take reasonable precautions to protect its workers. The allegations have not been proven in court.

The High River plant processes about 4,500 head of cattle a day, more than one-third of Canada’s beef-packing capacity.

Cargill Ltd. is a subsidiary of U.S.-based Cargill Inc., one of the largest privately owned corporations in the United States by revenue.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2021.

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

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