Workers Health & Safety Centre

Recent corporate criminal negligence plea deal draws criticism

A Sudbury, Ontario company will pay a fine of $1,000, along with $200,000 to be paid over time to the family of a worker killed shortly after beginning a new assignment. 
 
Rhéal Dionne, a 39-year old husband and father employed by Rainbow Concrete was killed on Feb. 15, 2017, when a concrete slab fell on the truck he was operating. Local news coverage of the circumstances leading to Rhéal’s death quote the Crown attorney as concluding Dionne had been insufficiently trained for his work assignment. 
 
Rainbow Concrete plead guilty to criminal negligence causing death almost two years after Dionne was killed. As part of a plea agreement, the Crown dropped the same charge against Boris Naneff, the owner of Rainbow Concrete, along with all 12 charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act against the company, the owner and two supervisors.

Need for real consequences

“Abandoning the criminal prosecution of a company’s owner in exchange for a $1,000 fine against the company and a gradual, $200,000 payment to the grieving family, does not provide justice for the family,” said United Steelworkers Union (USW) Canadian Director, Ken Neumann.
 
Many, including Neumann, are not convinced monetary penalties alone will prompt employers to commit to quality training and preventive actions needed to safeguard worker health and safety.
 
“The Westray Law was enacted in 2004 to hold employers criminally responsible for workplace deaths and injuries,” said Marty Warren, USW Ontario and Atlantic Canada Director. “The consequences of workplace deaths and injuries must be more than a cost of doing business.”
 
To date, few individuals have been charged under the Westray Law, even fewer have been convicted and just a handful have been sentenced to serve jail time. 
 
"And that's led to many people being worried that what we're seeing is the company taking the fall so to speak for cases where there is negligence involved and somebody's killed," says Steven Bittle, associate professor, criminology, University of Ottawa who has written extensively on the 1992 Westray mine explosion in Nova Scotia that killed 29 miners. 
 
Bittle is the author of a book entitled, Still Dying for a Living, which delves into the lack of criminal liability when it comes to work-related injury and death. In it, he argues as long as the primary causes of these altogether avoidable tragedies are not properly scrutinized, workers will continue to die in the pursuit of earning a living.

Family seeks Coroner's Inquest

Sue Dionne also says the circumstances leading to the death of Rhéal, her only child, need further scrutiny. “With this, we hope no other family will have to go through what my husband and I, my daughter-in-law, grandson and others will go through for the rest of our lives.”
 
To accomplish this, Sue Dionne feels an essential next step would be to call a coroner’s inquest into Rhéal’s death.
 
The irony of this is not lost on Sue Dionne, whose husband Julien (and Rhéal’s father) a retired USW health and safety activist and training instructor also played a critical role in representing many families at coroner’s inquests into worker deaths over the years. Julien is also a former WHSC training developer and training service representative.
 
In addition to his parents, Rhéal Dionne leaves behind his wife, Jessica and nine-year-old son, Noah.
 
USW and other health and safety advocates are renewing calls for governments to do more to ensure companies and their directors are held accountable for workplace fatalities, including setting up protocols and training prosecutors and law enforcement officials about the Westray Law.
 
Related campaigns and resources:
USW Stop the Killing, Enforce the law
OFL Kill a Worker, Go to Jail campaign
CLC statement on government announcement to help enforce Westray Law

Workers Health & Safety Centre offers a wide range of information resources and training programs to help workplaces meet and exceed all legal training requirements. WHSC offers Bill C-45 training to help workplace parties better understand the responsibilities of employers and others as they relate to the Westray Law.
 
To learn more:
Visit:   www.whsc.on.ca 
Email: contactus@whsc.on.ca
Call:   1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a WHSC training services representative.