Workers Health & Safety Centre

City of Ottawa politicians call for criminal investigations when workers killed

Ottawa City Hall
Ottawa City Council has unanimously passed a resolution calling for the enforcement of criminal liability laws relating to worker safety and health.
“To date we have seen very little appetite for enforcement of the 2004 amendments to the Criminal Code calling for corporate executives and management at the workplace level to be held properly accountable when workers are killed or injured,” says Sean McKenny, president Ottawa and District Labour Council who brought this motion to city council.
“Our hope with this resolution is to help make employers understand that unsafe work and resulting worker deaths must never be considered just a cost of doing business. Beyond the financial implications for operating an unsafe workplace, managers, supervisors and corporate directors can find themselves spending time in jail when they fail to meet their significant health and safety obligations.”
The motion, passed on June 8, 2016, directs the Ottawa City Council to “petition the Attorney General and the Labour Minister for the Province of Ontario to improve coordination between Occupational Health and Safety Act investigators, police and crown attorneys with a view to ensuring that the spirit and intent of the Westray Amendments are properly considered and applied in all cases of workplace fatalities and serious injuries.”
On May 9, 1992 a deadly blast ripped through the Westray Mine in Pictou County, Nova Scotia killing 26 miners. A public inquiry found flagrant disregard by mine supervisors and senior company officials for worker health and safety. Along with changes to provincial legislation, the public inquiry also led to recommendations for amendments to Canada’s Criminal Code to ensure corporate executives, directors and others directing work are held properly accountable for workplace safety.   
The government eventually responded to these recommendations and a significant lobbying campaign lead by the United Steelworkers and other unions by introducing Bill C-45 in June, 2003. The law, also known as the Westray Bill, passed and took effect March 31, 2004.
The amendments imposed criminal liability on an organization and its representatives for negligence and other offences. Examples of these representatives include employers, directors, managers, supervisors, lead hands and contractors. Individuals convicted of criminal negligence causing death can be sentenced up to life in prison, while corporations can face a limitless fine. Individuals convicted of criminal negligence causing bodily harm can be sentenced up to 10 years in prison.
“Our efforts in this community will continue to focus on the actions needed to make workplaces safer and healthier,” says McKenny. “Of course, this will include demands for criminal investigations by police and charges laid if warranted against corporations and those individuals responsible for directing work who seemingly put little emphasis on workers’ health and safety instead focusing on costs and profits. Stronger enforcement will send a message to corporations and management at the workplace level they must act on their significant obligations under health and safety law.”
Just a week after this motion passed, Ottawa police announced it had launched a criminal investigation into the workplace death of Olivier Bruneau nearly three months after the young construction worker was killed by falling ice in a deep pit on a construction site. It was reported that Bruneau had concerns with the conditions at the site, including the ice.
According to the Ottawa and District Labour Council this is the first time Ottawa police have investigated a workplace fatality since the 2004 amendments to the Criminal Code.
For our part, the Workers Health & Safety Centre offers Bill C-45 training to help workplace parties better understand the concept of criminal negligence, criminal liability and many other legal terms related to this legislation. This includes the duties of workers, lead hands, supervisors, managers, members of joint committees and employers.
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