On July 13 2012 Metron Construction Corporation was fined C$200,000 following its June 15 guilty plea to a charge of criminal negligence causing death. Metron is the first corporation in Ontario to be convicted of criminal negligence under amendments to the Criminal Code in 2004, which make it easier to prosecute organisations for criminal offences. The company's president was also fined C$90,000 after pleading guilty to four charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The charges were laid after a Christmas Eve 2009 accident in which five workers fell 13 storeys when a swing stage collapsed outside an apartment building, killing four workers and seriously injuring another. The penalty imposed on Metron is the highest fine imposed for criminal negligence arising from a workplace accident in Canadian history. The former highest was C$100,000 imposed on Transpavé Inc in 2008 after a worker was crushed in a piece of machinery. Similarly, the C$90,000 fine imposed on Metron's president is the highest monetary penalty ever imposed on an individual convicted under occupational health and safety legislation in Canada.
The crown attorney had sought a fine of C$1 million for the criminal negligence charge, while Metron had argued that a fine of C$100,000 was appropriate. In his reasons for judgment, Justice Robert Bigelow considered the Criminal Code sentencing factors applicable to corporations and found that:
- Metron had realised no advantage as a result of the offence;
- the offence had not been planned;
- the company president had been fined as a result of the incident; and
- neither Metron nor any of its representatives had been convicted or sanctioned by any regulatory body for similar conduct in the past; and
- imposing the fine sought by the crown attorney would likely result in Metron's bankruptcy.
Bigelow also found that imposing the fine sought by the crown would likely result in Metron's bankruptcy. Ultimately, the judge held that the C$342,500 in fines and surcharges payable by Metron and the company president, which amounted to three times Metron's net earnings in its last profitable year (the year before the accident), would send a clear message to all businesses of the overwhelming importance of ensuring worker safety.
Sentencing Metron's president on charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the court accepted the joint submission for a fine of C$90,000 that was presented by the crown and defence. Bigelow commented that the case involved serious breaches of health and safety legislation that resulted in tragic consequences. However, the defendant had over 20 years of experience in the construction industry without any previous violations of health and safety legislation. After considering these circumstances, the judge found that the jointly recommended penalty would not be contrary to the administration of justice.(1)
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(1) For more detailed analysis and commentary on this decision, please see Heenan Blaikie LLP's OHS & Workers' Compensation Management Update, available at www.heenanblaikie.com/images/newsletter/enews/ohs/pdf/enews_ohs_2012-07-13_Tor_EN.pdf.