In R. v. Metron Construction Corporation (“Metron“), the Ontario Court of Appeal said that a $200,000 fine for criminal negligence by a construction company, where four workers were tragically killed, was manifestly unfit. The Court substituted a fine of $750,000.
On Christmas Eve 2009, six Metron employees boarded a swing stage to descend 14 stories. There were only two lifelines. The swing stage collapsed under the weight of the workers and their equipment and four of the workers fell to their death.
Investigations after the incident showed that the swing stage, which did not meet any of the criteria required by Ontario’s health and safety legislation, was defective and three of the workers who died had marijuana in their system consistent with recent ingestion and impairment – including the site supervisor.
Following Nova Scotia’s Westray Mine disaster, the Criminal Code was amended in 2004, so that corporations could be held criminally responsible for the negligence of senior officers. Bill C-45, as the amendments were known, allowed for a corporation to be charged and fined for the actions if individuals such as Metron’s site supervisor.
In Metron, the site supervisor failed to ensure the swing stage met the safety requirements required by legislation, allowed four workers to board the swing stage without lifelines, and apparently had allowed workers to ingest marijuana on the job site. In light of these circumstances, Metron pled guilty to the criminal negligence charge.
There is no upper limit in the Criminal Code on fines for criminal negligence. The parties asked the sentencing judge to determine the appropriate fine. Metron sought a fine of no more than $100,000; the Crown sought a one million dollar fine.
Metron is only the second case where fines for criminal negligence have been imposed. As such, the judge relied on fines imposed under provincial health and safety regimes to determine that $200,000 was an appropriate fine. He also considered Metron’s financial stability, and refused to impose a fine that would endanger the viability of the company.
What did the Court of Appeal say?
The Court of Appeal said the sentencing judge’s reasoning was in error because:
- The fine failed to appreciate the higher degree of moral blameworthiness and gravity associated with Metron’s conduct and the charge of criminal negligence;
- It was not appropriate to rely on fines imposed under health and safety legislation, as these fines had a different purpose and were capped. Furthermore, even if such a comparison was appropriate, $200,000 was at the lower end of occupational health and safety range for fatality cases, was inappropriately low.
- A company’s financial status and/or their distance from the supervisor directly responsible, were not appropriate factors to take into account to mitigate any penalty. Although the factor can be considered, the Criminal Code does not preclude a sentencing judge from imposing a fine that might result in the bankruptcy of the corporation.
- A $200,000 fine ignores the gravity and circumstances of the offence and the serious impact on the victims, and fails to send any message of deterrence or denunciation to other corporations. Such a fine undermines the intent and effectiveness of the Westray amendments.
The Court held that given the need to deliver a message on the importance of worker safety, the goal of deterrence, and the morally blameworthy conduct of the Defendant, a fine of $750,000 fine was appropriate in the circumstances.