In 2004, the Criminal Code of Canada was amended by Bill C-45. Also known as the Westray Bill, the changes brought about in these amendments resulted from extensive lobbying as a result of the 26 miners who died in the Nova Scotia coal mining tragedy of the same name in May 1992. Most notably, these changes made it possible for companies and individuals to be charged with criminal negligence of employees’ occupational health and safety. The legislation defined the duty for companies to take all “reasonable steps” to prevent harm to workers, contractors and the public.
To date, there have been two successful convictions, both in Quebec, under these Criminal Code amendments. They include:
1. Transpavé Inc., a concrete block manufacturerWhat happened? Transpavé employee Steve L’Ecuyer, 23, was fatally crushed on October 11, 2005, after entering a moving area of a machine that stacks blocks, while attempting to clear a jam.What did the investigation find? The light curtain guarding system, which should have interrupted power to the equipment as the worker approached it, was disabled. The light curtain had been disabled for most of the previous year and a half. A manager had been aware that this was the case, and did not take corrective action. The worker had not been informed of the dangers of entering the area and moving or attempting to unjam the blocks. The verdict? Transpavé pled guilty on December 7, 2007, to the criminal negligence charge and was ordered to pay a fine of $110,000.
2. Pasquale Scrocca, a landscape contractorWhat happened? Aniello Boccanfuso, who worked for Mr. Scrocca, was fatally crushed on June 12, 2006, when the backhoe his employer was operating failed to brake and pinned him against a wall.
What did the investigation find? The backhoe had been purchased in 1976, had not undergone any regular maintenance since then, and had not been inspected by a certified mechanic in at least five years. The mechanical inspection after the incident found that the machine had absolutely no braking capacity in the front two wheels, no brake fluid in the reservoir, and an all-over braking capacity of less than 30 percent.
The verdict? Mr. Scrocca pled ‘not guilty’ to the criminal negligence charge, but was found guilty of criminal negligence causing death. He has been sentenced to two years less a day, to be served in the community with conditions, including a curfew.
Criminal negligence charges have also been laid in two other tragedies: the swing stage collapse that took the lives of four workers and seriously injured a fifth on Christmas Eve 2009, when the five workers fell 13 stories to the ground, as well as in the 2006 sinking of BC ferry “Queen of the North”, which resulted in the presumed deaths of two missing passengers. In a handful of other cases, charges under the Bill C-45 amendments were laid, but then later dropped.