A local contractor named in a video that allegedly shows a crew preparing to scuttle the Northern King fishing vessel says he’s got nothing to hide.
Wayne Atkinson, president of W.A. Contracting Ltd., confirmed that he was the operator of the backhoe loading gravel into a docked vessel, seen in surveillance camera footage shot during the evening of Feb. 1, 2017.
He said his backhoe was parked at the site for several days, and that he sent photos of himself working on the vessel to multiple contacts. That’s proof that he wasn’t trying to be secretive, he said.
“I must have sent like 15 different pictures to everybody that follows me,” he said.
Several people are named in text added to the leaked seven-minute video, including councillor Tony Roberts Jr. of Wei Wai Kum First Nation and former councillor Dana Roberts, a married couple. Atkinson, a member of Wei Wai Kum First Nation, is also named in the video.
He said that Tony Roberts Jr. hired him to strip the vessel of various components and to load it with gravel. He started putting gravel in the vessel on Jan. 31, 2017 in “broad daylight” and continued the job the following evening, Atkinson said.
The job took place over the course of three days at the Wei Wai Kum net loft facility on Spit Rd. in Campbell River, where the Northern King was docked, Atkinson said.
Reached by phone on Friday, Tony Roberts Jr. declined to comment about Atkinson’s account, noting that an investigation is currently underway.
“I can’t comment on anything,” he said. “It’s an ongoing investigation and I can’t say anything until it’s finalized.”
Invoices and receipts from W.A. Contracting indicate that the company billed Tony and Dana Roberts $900 for work carried out on a boat from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1, 2017 and $824 for a delivery of pit-run gravel during that time.
Atkinson said that that his backhoe was in plain view during that three-day period, parked at a docking area called a sheet wall beside the net loft facility.
“My machine was parked at that sheet wall for three days,” he said. “It’s not like I just jumped in there and loaded the gravel and had to get out of there.”
He also said that he sent multiple photos of himself working on the Northern King to friends during that time.
“I’m sending it to everyone I know on my phone,” he said. “I thought it was kind of cool, dismantling the boat.”
The fact that the leaked surveillance video was shot at night made it look secretive, but “there’s nothing to hide,” he said.
Atkinson said that work shown in the leaked video footage took place during the evening of Feb. 1 because he’d been working on another job during the daytime.
He also said he was originally approached about the job by Nathan Chickite, another man named in the video.
Nathan Chickite and Tony Roberts Jr. were both on-site during the evening of Feb. 1, Atkinson said. He couldn’t confirm whether other people named in the video were present.
Atkinson said that he asked Nathan Chickite about why he wanted gravel placed in the Northern King, because it seemed unusual. Chickite told him the gravel was meant to balance the boat during towing, according to Atkinson.
“He said it was for ballast,” Atkinson. “I had my suspicions. It’s odd, that’s why I asked.”
Chickite declined to comment when reached by the Mirror on Friday. He made headlines in 2017 when footage of him shooting a deer on the Quinsam Reserve in Campbell River went viral. Chickite issued an apology about the incident this year after the Crown recommended an alternative to court action.
He was previously in the news for raising the issue of Indigenous fishing rights at the Tyee Pool, which is well-known as a recreational fishing spot.
The Mirror has reached out to other people named in the video. Except for Atkinson, the identities of the people in the video haven’t been confirmed.
The video also indicates that the Northern King was hauled away by a vessel named in the video, but the identity of the boats hasn’t been confirmed.
Atkinson believes his name was added in order to sully his reputation amid what he described as efforts to expose corruption in the band office.
“They’re using my name because they’re obviously trying to drag me down into the boat-sinking shenanigans,” he said.
Asked about allegations that the fishing vessel was deliberately scuttled, Environment Canada said that an investigation into potential violations of the Environmental Protection Act is underway.
Just weeks before the surveillance footage was shot, the Northern King sank in Discovery Harbour Marina, but it was refloated with pumps and then stripped of various pollutants, including the boat’s main engines, according to the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard also said the boat’s current status is unknown.
Chris Roberts, the elected chief of Wei Wai Kum First Nation, said in a statement on Monday that the band didn’t sanction the release of the surveillance footage and was looking for the source of the leak.
The video had been viewed more than 6,000 times by Friday afternoon.
Chris Roberts also said council had committed to cooperating with Environment Canada’s investigation into “allegations of the intentional sinking of the Northern King without a disposal permit.”
He stressed the importance of environmental stewardship for Wei Wai Kum First Nation, noting that the waters and lands had sustained the Indigenous people for thousands of years.
The Northern King was a 98-tonne wooden fishing vessel that was first registered in 1945, with Vancouver as the port of registry, according to Sau Sau Liu, a spokesperson for Transport Canada. As of March 2008, the vessel was no longer registered in Canada, she said.