An Ontario judge has refused to permit a professional engineer employed with the Ontario Ministry of Labour to testify as an expert in a health and safety prosecution.

A company was charged under the Occupational Health and Safety Act after a drill rig tipped over on a construction site, causing one death and one serious injury.  The cause of the accident was key to the case.

The MOL engineer had prepared a report in which he explored all of the possible causes from an engineering perspective.  He concluded the report with his own opinion as to the root cause of the accident.

The judge held that the MOL engineer was “inextricably bound up with the investigation of this case”.  He was the first person on the scene of the accident along with the MOL’s lead investigator.  He had been closely involved in the MOL’s investigation throughout.  At each point in the MOL’s investigation, the engineer had been performing at least two roles: (1) he was himself investigating directly by his observations, and (2) he was assisting the investigators by being the contact person with the technical knowledge beyond the expertise of the lead MOL investigator.

The judge noted that being an MOL employee did not disqualify the engineer from offering an expert opinion.

However, his extensive involvement in the investigation that led to the MOL laying the Occupational Health and Safety Act charges, and his enthusiastic identification with the prosecution during the trial, led the judge to conclude that the engineer could not give an unbiased opinion on the root cause of the collapse of the drilling rig.  As such, the court refused to qualify the MOL engineer to give expert evidence at trial.

The Ministry of Labour in Right of the Province of Ontario v. Advanced Construction Techniques Ltd. (Justice B. Knazan, April 21, 2015)