An Ontario employer that was fined $200,000 following the deaths of four immigrant construction workers will have to pay a much larger fine, if the province’s Ministry of the Attorney General has its way.
In August, the Ontario Court of Justice levied a $200,000 fine on Metron Construction, which pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death — under the 2004 Bill C-45 amendments to the Criminal Code. Metron’s president, Joel Swartz, pleaded guilty to four charges under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act and was personally fined $90,000. Total charges against the company and its president, with victim surcharges tacked on, was $342,500.
The charges stemmed from an incident on Dec. 24, 2009, when five immigrant workers were repairing a balcony on a high rise building in Toronto. The scaffold they were standing on broke when another worker tried to step onto the swing stage, causing it to break into two pieces. The workers fell 14 storeys to the ground, killing four of them and seriously injuring the fifth. It was determined that there were too many workers on the scaffold and not enough fall protection provided for all of them.
The Crown had sought a $1 million fine against Metron, but the court found Metron had no history of safety violations, had not intentionally planned its violation before the accident, and had pleaded guilty to the charges, so a lesser fine was more appropriate. The court also factored in that the company president was individually fined and a larger fine would have bankrupted Metron, which was going through financial difficulties.
However, in the wake of protests by the Ontario Federation of Labour and other labour groups, the ministry announced it had filed a leave to appeal the fine, calling the $200,000 amount “manifestly unfit” and arguing that it “did not reflect the high level of culpability.”