The Ontario appeal decision in R v Matcor Automotive Inc(1) is a reminder that courts in Occupational Health and Safety Act prosecutions can award fines higher than even the Ministry of Labour prosecutor requests.
In this unusual case, both a trial justice of the peace and an appeal judge imposed a fine that was substantially higher than that which the Ministry of Labour prosecutor wanted.
After a six-day trial, the defendant – an auto parts manufacturer – was found guilty on three charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The trial justice of the peace fined the company a total of C$270,000, despite the Ministry of Labour prosecutor at trial requesting a fine in the range of C$175,000 to C$225,000.
The company appealed the amount of the fine, but did not appeal the convictions. It argued that:
- the fine was not proportionate;
- the trial justice placed undue emphasis on a prior conviction against the company under the Occupational Health and Safety Act; and
- the fine was outside the acceptable range.
The appeal judge rejected all of these arguments on the grounds that:
- the company was a "substantial corporation" (two facilities with a total of 770 people) that was "within a broader group of companies";
- the company had been found guilty on three charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act;
- it was proper to consider the prior conviction in 2004; and
- the harm to the injured worker was "devastating" – he was rendered a paraplegic when a robot on which he was doing a "quick fix" pressed against him on his back. The company's practice was not to lock out or tag out robots when doing a quick fix.
On the appeal, the Ministry of Labour prosecutor and the defence counsel agreed that C$180,000 would be an appropriate amount for the fine. However, the appeal judge rejected this agreement, finding that the C$270,000 fine was not "unfit".
The judge decided that a fine of C$270,000 "fell within the appropriate range". The appeal was therefore dismissed.
The case illustrates that, particularly in cases of serious injury to a worker which offends the court, there is always a risk that the courts will impose a fine that is greater than the amount that the Ministry of Labour prosecutor wanted.