“Penalties when workers die on the job don’t go far enough, say labour groups, families” / Jacques Marcoux, Kristin Annable (CBC News, Nov. 30, 2017)
According to the most recent statistics available from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada, in 2015 there were 853 work-related deaths in Canada, including 281 in Ontario. Of these approximately one-third resulted from accidents (the other two-thirds from illnesses due to exposure over time to toxic substances).
A just-released CBC investigation reports that across the country only five employers have actually served time (ranging from 15 to 120 days) for workplace safety violations causing employee deaths. In Ontario, where 11 employers have been sentenced to jail time, Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn when questioned noted his concern on seeing jail sentences wiped away by appeal courts.
For those charges laid under the Criminal Code, while Bill C-45, the Westray Amendment of 2004, made it easier to hold corporations liable for criminal negligence and jail individuals, the first such conviction came only in 2008 (Quebec company Transpavé). In its report, CBC News stated it was unable to identify a single instance to date where an individual convicted under the Code served time in prison for an occupational-related incident.
Inadequate fines, inadequate enforcement
As the investigation uncovered, while many provinces have increased the maximum fines for penalties under occupational health and safety law – in some jurisdictions to more than $1 million per charge — they are rarely imposed. Based on an examination of 251 cases from 2007 -2017, the median fine actually levied was just $97,000, with amounts varying widely by province (Alberta the highest at $275,000; Ontario the second highest at $125,000).
If a huge company is getting a $100,000 fine, it’s just the cost of doing business, and I can completely share the feelings of the family members who are outraged that there is no justice being done in the sense that the company is not being hurt the way their son of their daughter or their father has been hurt.” (Katherine Lippel, Canada Research Chair on occupational health and safety law)
With many pointing to timid enforcement of the Westray provisions, it has in the words of University of Ottawa criminologist, “exposed the kind of woeful state in the health and safety regulation overall.”
- Tucker, Sean. 2017. Work-Related Fatality and Injury Rates: A Comparison of Canadian Provinces and Territories. Regina: University of Regina
- Sandborn, Tom. 2016 Nov. 30. “Kill a Worker, Go to Jail.” The Tyee (an update on application of Bill C-45)
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. 2014. Bill C-45 (OHS fact sheet). Hamilton: CCOHS
- United Steelworkers of Canada. Stop the Killing, Enforce the Law (website)
- Ontario Federation of Labour. Kill a Worker, Go to Jail campaign (website)