Family files RCMP complaint over Cargill COVID death

The family of a Cargill worker who died of COVID-19 has filed a formal complaint with the RCMP.

Benito Quesada, 51, was among more than 950 employees who became infected during an outbreak last year at the company’s meat processing plant in High River, Alta. Two workers died, including Quesada.

“Health officials confirmed the outbreak contributed heavily to spread of the virus throughout High River and neighbouring communities, including northeast Calgary, a community that is still facing high numbers of cases and increased risk of transmission,” said a statement by Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley.

“This outbreak was devastating for families, and had serious and tragic consequences for our entire province.”

But Cargill has worked closely during the pandemic with Alberta Health Services as well as Occupational Health and Safety, said director of media relations Daniel Sullivan. The company has implemented numerous safety measures to protect workers, he said.

“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,” he said in a statement.

During an interview, he described Quesada’s death May 7 as heartbreaking, adding Cargill had expressed its deepest condolences to the family.

“He was a teammate of ours, and it’s really a devastating thing.”

The complaint by Quesada’s family was filed Jan. 8, sparking a review by the Foothills County RCMP as well as the Southern Alberta District General Investigation section, said media relations officer Cpl. Tammy Keibel.

“And it really won’t be until they take a look at it, and see what’s been provided to see what the next steps are — if there is going to be further investigation, or if there needs to be further investigation before any determination is made based on the allegations.”

Keibel said few details were available Jan. 11 about the complaint. “My understanding is that the information in the package (submitted by the family) will somehow link criminality on the side of Cargill to the death of their employee who passed away earlier this year from COVID-19.”

Cargill was unaware of the nature of the allegations as of Jan. 11 and the company had not been contacted by the RCMP, said Sullivan.

The High River plant was shut down for 14 days starting April 20.

In the statement, Sullivan said Cargill has “operated in a manner that meets or exceeds the government’s health and safety standards … but our work doesn’t end there and we continue to learn how to help slow the spread of the global pandemic with each new day.”


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