It was, perhaps, the best-known rumour in B.C.
Just days after the Queen of the North sank, on March 22, 2006, killing Shirley Rosette, 43, and Gerald Foisy, 45, word began to spread that Karl Lilgert, the officer in charge of the ferry, had been on deck with his former lover. What exactly the pair had been doing was the source of speculation and innuendo.
The story was made all the more appalling when, for years, it seemed Lilgert, with the help of his union, would not pay for his careless actions.
First, the B.C Ferry and Marine Workers attempted to delay BC Ferries investigators from talking to Lilgert and its crew. When asked to testify at an inquiry into the fatal collision, Lilgert, with the union’s help, stonewalled. The Ferry and Marine Workers threatened labour unrest if Lilgert was sanctioned for refusing to co-operate.
And when the inquiry attempted to force the issue, the union’s president filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, alleging Lilgert was being discriminated against, “on the basis of mental disability.” The union claimed Lilgert was too traumatized to testify.
Not only did the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal dismiss the case, but it found that the union deemed the inquiry an “unnecessary process.”
Finally, in 2010, Lilgert was charged with criminal negligence causing their deaths. Four months ago, the case went to trial.
In his defence, Lilgert claimed that a squall had blown in the night the ferry sank, that he was doing everything he could to navigate through strong winds and around two nearby boats that had appeared in the dark, off British Columbia’s northern coast.
But data collected from the ship’s electronic chart system—the equivalent of a “black box”—refuted Lilgert’s claims. The ferry had made no course corrections, it showed.
After entering Wright Sound, where the ferry was scheduled to make a left turn, the ship continued in a straight line, barreling toward Gil Island; it hadn’t made a single course correction before the collision.
In April, three months into trial, Crown lawyer Michel Huot delivered the accusation that had, until then, been treated as rumour: the pair had either been having sex, or were fighting when tragedy struck, he said. He accused Lilgert of having falsified evidence.
A tugboat Lilgert claimed to have been avoiding was “nowhere near the ship.” And the second boat—which he described as a “fake boat”—never existed. Huot reminded jurors that the many survivors who had testified in the trial had said the weather was calm before and after the crash.
Under oath, Lilgert acknowledged that he and Karen Briker had broken up; her common-law husband had found out about the affair and had told Lilgert’s wife; they’d decided to end the romance. The ferry’s final voyage marked the first time they were working alone together since the breakup.
The judge in the case, Sunni Stromberg-Stein, told the jury that “simple carelessness or honest mistakes are generally not criminal.”
“Consider, was Mr. Lilgert’s conduct a mere departure from the standard of care expected of a reasonable person in Mr. Lilgert’s circumstances or (was it) markedly beyond mere carelessness?”
Tonight, the jury found the latter.
Seven years after the ship went down, the families of Shirley Rosette and her common-law spouse, Gerald Foisy, are seeing some measure of justice. Foisy’s daughters were 12 and 16 at the time. Rosette’s sons, who’d lost their father four years earlier in a fishing accident, were 14 and 19.
Lilgert’s sentencing will take place in June; he could face a lifetime in prison. His lawyer has said his client is likely to appeal the decision.