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Ex-mill worker in B.C. accused in fatal shooting may get severance

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NANAIMO, B.C. - A man charged in a mass shooting at a Vancouver Island sawmill where he was laid off six years ago may now be entitled to severance pay as part of a settlement involving a group of former workers.

Kevin Addison, 47, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder after a shooting at the Western Forest Products mill in Nanaimo on April 30. The company has said the suspect in the shooting was a former employee.

Former co-workers have said Addison was among roughly 160 workers laid off from the downtown sawmill in 2008, most of whom were not hired back when the facility reopened in 2010, setting off a long-running labour dispute over severance. The case also involves more than 100 workers at another mill on the outskirts of the city, which was shut down in 2009 and also later reopened with a fraction of the staff.

The labour dispute ended last week, when an arbitration settlement worth $1.2 million was reached between Western Forest Products and its union, United Steelworkers Local 1-1937.

The money will be divided between qualifying employees from the two mills, said union business agent Chris Cinkant.

Cinkant said it's too early to say whether Addison will qualify for severance. He said the union will now begin the process of creating a list of qualified employees.

"It'll take a little while in case anyone has slipped through the cracks or that kind of thing," Cinkant said.

"People have moved on here and there so we need to find them. ... This should provide some closure for all those who have been waiting and wondering whether or not they're going to get money."

Western Forest Products plant chairman Michael Lunn, 62, and supervisor Fred McEachern, 53, were both shot dead, while supervisor Earl Kelly and vice-president of manufacturing Tony Sudar were wounded.

Lunn was a union steward who attended hearings when the United Steelworkers took the company to court in 2011 over allegations that were described as "severance pay avoidance."

A labour arbitrator ruled in favour of the company in 2012, prompting the union to launch an appeal.

The process was delayed further when the arbitrator fell ill.

Cinkant said the union and the company recently agreed to end the dispute by allowing a mediator to decide how much money should be paid out.

Mediator John McConchie issued a binding report that said $1.2 million will be divided proportionally, based on years of service, to eligible employees who were on seniority lists at the time of the mill closures.

"We were hopeful for more money, of course, but at the end of the day this is best for everybody," Cinkant said.

"This has gone on now for what seems like forever, especially to those affected. People are frustrated. I'm just happy it's all finally over."

Western Forest Products spokeswoman Amy Spencer said the company is also relieved "and we're looking forward to moving ahead."

Meanwhile, Addison has made several appearances in Nanaimo provincial court.

His next court date is set for Sept 2.

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