In a recent decision, the Ontario Court of Appeal imposed a fine of C$750,000 on an Ontario company, holding that the fine was a "fit fine in the circumstances". The fine was levied in a case where four workers fell to their deaths following the collapse of a swing stage at a highrise construction site. The fine, imposed on the workers' employer, Metron Construction Corporation (Metron), represents nearly a four-fold increase from the C$200,000 fine that had been issued by the trial judge in 2012.
Metron is the first Ontario corporation to be convicted for criminal negligence under the Criminal Code, as amended by Bill C-45, in a matter involving workplace health and safety.
On December 24, 2009, four of Metron's workers plunged to their deaths after boarding a swing stage that collapsed from the exterior of the 14th floor of a highrise construction site.
At trial, Metron pled guilty to one count of criminal negligence causing death pursuant to sections 22.1(b), 217.1 and 219 of the Criminal Code. Sections 22.1(b) and 217.1 were added to the Criminal Code as part of the Bill C-45 amendments on corporate criminal liability.
There is limited jurisprudence regarding these amendments to the Criminal Code. As such, the trial judge relied on the sentencing range developed in cases decided under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to determine the appropriate fine. The trial judge found that a fine of C$200,000 plus a Victim Fine Surcharge of 15% (C$30,000) was appropriate.
DECISION OF THE ONTARIO COURT OF APPEAL
The Court of Appeal found the sentence of C$200,000 to be "manifestly unfit" and increased the fine against Metron to C$750,000.
The Court of Appeal held that the trial judge's decision failed to appreciate the high degree of moral blameworthiness and gravity associated with a conviction for criminal negligence causing death. The Court further held that the judge placed undue weight on Metron's economic viability and ability to pay, which is only one factor to consider in sentencing a corporation. Furthermore, the Court held that a C$200,000 fine failed to demonstrate the importance of worker safety and undermined the intent and effectiveness of the Bill C-45 amendments to the Criminal Code.
This decision emphasizes the importance of adhering to health and safety requirements and illustrates the potential consequences of failing to comply with the employer's obligations concerning worker safety. This decision also demonstrates that, when a corporation is liable for health and safety violations under the Criminal Code, the corporation can expect to receive a sentence in accordance with principles of sentencing applicable to Criminal Code offences which may result in substantially higher fines than imposed under provincial occupational health and safety legislation.