The tragic deaths of four workers at a Toronto construction site on December 24, 2009 quickly became one of the most notorious workplace accidents in the history of Ontario. The accident occurred when a group of six workers were repairing the balcony at a Toronto apartment using a suspended scaffold. The accident happened when a seventh worker attempted to step onto the suspended scaffold, causing it to come apart which tragically resulted in four workers falling to their death. The accident was widely covered in the mainstream media and directly resulted in the appointment of the Tony Dean panel to review the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”).
Criminal charges and charges under the OHSA were laid against Metron Construction and the President of Metron Construction. On June 15, 2012, Metron Construction entered a plea of guilty to a single count of criminal negligence causing death. The issue of sentence with respect to this charge is still pending before the Court, but the Crown is seeking a fine of one million dollars.
The President of Metron entered guilty pleas to four charges under the OHSA related relating to inadequate fall protection training and failing to ensure the suspended scaffold complied with the OHSA. The Crown Prosecutor and the President of Metron have jointly submitted to the Court that he should be fined of a total of $90,000. The Court has not yet accepted the joint submission of the Crown and Defence, but it is relatively uncommon for Courts not to accept a fine that has been agreed to by the parties.
The guilty plea by Metron is highly significant as it represents to my knowledge the first guilty plea by a corporation in Ontario under the “Bill C-45” provisions of the Criminal Code. It should be noted that the Bill C-45 provisions of the Criminal Code came into force on March 31, 2004. It took more than eight years from the date of enactment for the first corporate criminal conviction to occur in Ontario. During this same period there have been literally thousands of charges laid under the OHSA by the Ministry of Labour.
The guilty plea by Metron raises the question of whether the Crown will pursue criminal charges more frequently. It is our view that criminal charges will likely remain quite rare as the burden of proof on the prosecution in a criminal case is very high. Notwithstanding the significant number of workplace accidents across Canada, criminal charges against corporations and individuals continue to be the exception rather than the rule.
Assuming the joint submission for $90,000 against the President of Metron is accepted by the Court, the Ministry of Labour will have obtained the highest penalties ever imposed against any individual for a workplace accident in this country. It will be interesting to see the reaction of the labour movement to the penalty imposed against the President of Metron. Representatives of the labour movement have publicly lobbied for jail time for executives in criminal cases. It is important to appreciate that the President of Metron pleaded guilty to offences under the OHSA. Although jail time is available under the OHSA, individuals are rarely sentenced to terms of incarceration.