In R c. Gagné, Steve Lemieux and Simon Gagné, two ex-employees of Québec-Cartier (formerly Arcelor-Mittal), were acquitted of accusations of criminal negligence causing death and bodily harm. The Corporation was not charged. The judgment of Justice Michel Dionne of the Court of Quebec was rendered November 29th 2010.
The charges followed a collision between a train and a maintenance vehicle in October, 2006. The accident caused the death of Denis Leclerc and injured three others. The accident occurred because the operators of the train and of the maintenance vehicle failed to communicate with each other, and failed to ensure that the necessary traffic permits were in place to ensure the safety of those working around train tracks. At the time of the accident, Steve Lemieux was the train operator, and Simon Gagné was the foreman.
Justice Dionne held that the Crown failed to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. According Justice Dionne, the two men were more guilty of errors of fact than of criminal negligence. The court held that the required mental element was not present in this case. Justice Dionne held that the events of October 13th 2006 were attributable to an error of fact that arose from a corporate culture of tolerance and deficient training, not wanton and reckless disregard for the lives and safety of a worker on behalf of the two individuals.
This case serves to remind employers, supervisors, officers and directors that the OHS criminal negligence provisions carry a real risk of accountability. Employers must be aware that neglect of OHS duties can lead to unlimited fines for the corporation and possible fines and jail time for individuals. Although, the Gagné decision resulted in an acquittal, the court spoke harshly about the employers' corporate culture and identified it as the root cause of the accident. The court's commentary signals that had the corporation been charged, the result may have been altogether different.