Workers Health & Safety Centre

Seeking Prevention and Justice

Seeking Prevention <i>and</i> Justice

Labour renews calls for strict enforcement of Criminal Code provisions and health and safety laws.

The Expert Panel review of Ontario’s health and safety system was one of several responses to the December 24, 2009 swing stage collapse that killed four migrant workers and seriously injured another. Company officials also face federal criminal charges as well as some 60 provincial health and safety charges.
Throughout the Expert Panel process representatives of several unions called for strict enforcement, real protection against employer reprisals, greater worker powers and resources to participate in workplace health and safety and effective mandatory training standards. On the anniversary of the December 24th tragedy they also renewed their calls for justice, not only in this case, but in the hundreds of cases that happen each year.
In a press release of December 24, 2010 Ontario Federation of Labour president, Sid Ryan said, “This Christmas, we want every employer in Ontario to reflect on the new workplace reality: CEOs, managers and others can be held personally liable if a worker is killed on the job.”
To commemorate the tragedy the United Food and Commercial Workers, Canada also published a poster entitled, We Remember. “We remember the victims, and we honour them by remaining vigilant because what happened last December 24th was completely preventable,” said UFCW Canada national president, Wayne Hanley.

“What must also be remembered was there were a number of Ministry of Labour work orders laid against the construction company in the weeks leading up to the tragedy. Orders are one thing, but enforcement is another, which is one of the messages we made loud and clear at the Ontario Expert Advisory Panel inquiry,” said Hanley.
Company officials Vadim Kazenelson, Joel Swartz and Benny Saigh along with Metron Construction Corporation each face four counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. If convicted of the more serious charge, each individual can be sentenced to life in prison, while the corporation can face a limitless fine.   
Since their arrest October 13, 2010, the accused have made three federal court appearances. Criminal charges first became possible in 2004 with parliament’s unanimous passage of Bill C-45. The Bill amended the Criminal Code establishing a legal duty for persons directing the work of others to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of workers and the public (section 217.1, of the Code).  This Bill, also commonly referred to as the Westray Bill was the result of a dedicated lobbying campaign by the United Steelworkers Union and supported by the New Democratic Party and wider labour movement in response to the Westray mine explosion on May 9, 1992, where 26 men were killed. To date, just one company has been convicted under the Code. Montreal-based Transpave plead guilty in December, 2007 to criminal negligence charges stemming from the workplace death of 23-year-old Steve L’Ecuyer.
Metron Construction Corporation, has also been in provincial court answering to 30 charges for violating the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the Act) and the Construction Regulations. A director of Metron and a supervisor face 24 additional charges. Four charges were leveled against Swing N Scaff — the company that supplied the scaffolding. A director of this company also faces three charges. Each charge leveled against the two companies under the Act carries a maximum $500,000 fine. The individual directors and the supervisor charged face fines of up to $25,000 and a year in jail for each violation.