Canada: The Criminal Employee: A Conviction In The Queen Of The North Ferry Disaster

Canadian employers and employees are subject to unique and far-reaching Criminal Code provisions regarding negligence causing bodily injury or death to workers and to others, arising out of the performance of work. The first jury trial ever under these provisions has delivered a significant conviction in a high-profile case.

The Queen of the North Disaster

B.C. Ferries' vessel The Queen of the North had 101 souls on board when it ran aground shortly after midnight on March 22, 2006. The ferry sank into the waters of Wright Sound. Two passengers were never found and were presumed dead. A subsequent internal investigation by B.C. Ferries found that required course changes were not made, driving the boat at full speed into Gil Island. B.C. Ferries blamed the mistake on human error. A 2009 Transportation Safety Board ("TSB") investigation report cited inadequate navigation practices by the crew.

Seven years later, the B.C. Supreme Court has come to the same conclusion: Karl Lilgert, navigation officer on the Queen of the North, was convicted of two counts of OHS criminal negligence on May 13, 2013, following 6 days of jury deliberation.1 The trial lasted over 4 months.

Lilgert was charged with criminal negligence causing death, four years after two people drowned when the Queen of the North veered off course and sank off the northern tip of Vancouver Island. Fifty-seven (57) passengers and forty-two (42) crew members abandoned ship before it sank. Two people — Shirley Rosette and Gerald Foisy — were never found and were declared dead. This is the first jury trial for an individual in an occupational health and safety related criminal negligence case since the Bill C-45 amendments to the Criminal Code in 2004. The Justice presiding over the case was B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein.

The Trial

During the course of the trial, it was determined that Lilgert was alone on the bridge with helmswoman Karen Briker when the vessel ran aground. Jurors heard testimony that Lilgert and Briker had previously had an affair. The Crown argued that Lilgert had 22 minutes to make a course correction, and that Lilgert and Briker were involved in a personal interaction at the time of the crash resulting in Lilgert's inattention and the cause of the crash.2

The Defence argued that the collision was the result of a combination of factors beyond Lilgert's control, including bad weather, inadequate training, unreliable equipment, and inadequate staffing policies.3 Lilgert testified that he thought he was keeping a distance from the islands based on readings from the ship's instruments, and that he only saw the island when it was too late to make the necessary correction.

At the sentencing hearing set for June 21, 2013, Lilgert faces possible life imprisonment. However, life imprisonment is an unlikely outcome, and he is more likely to be sentenced to a set period of jail time or probation. Currently, no individuals have been imprisoned following convictions for occupational health and safety related criminal negligence. Lilgert's lawyer stated that he plans to appeal the conviction, citing issues with the jury charge as a primary ground of appeal.4

Individual Responsibility and Liability

Section 217.1 of the Criminal Code imposes a duty on individuals and organizations to take "reasonable steps" to prevent "death" or "bodily harm" to a worker.5 This duty dovetails with ss. 219/220/221 of the Criminal Code (general criminal negligence provisions) to create the offence of occupational health and safety criminal negligence.

The law elevates OHS liability and stigma by imposing criminal penalties and a criminal record on the offender. This law supplements, rather than replaces, existing provincial and federal OHS legislation. It has application for both federal and provincial employers.

OHS Criminal Negligence is established where the individual, undertakes to direct how another person does work and:

  1. contravenes his or her duty to take "reasonable steps" to prevent bodily harm (s.217.1), and
  2. shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of others (s.219)

An individual may be convicted of OHS criminal negligence if the Crown can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a breach of duty to take "reasonable steps" to prevent the incident and that the individual showed "wanton or reckless disregard" for the safety of the worker. Generally, it must be shown that the individual had knowledge of the risk. However, it is important to remember that there is no need for the individual to specifically intend the harm that results in order to be convicted of such a charge.

Lessons for Organizations operating in Canada

Employers must be aware that neglect of OHS duties can lead to unlimited fines for the corporation and possible fines and jail time for individuals. Employers, supervisors, officers and directors carry a real risk of accountability. In order to minimize the risk of prosecution and conviction, organizations must be proactive in assessing and managing workplace risk.

The first and most effective method of complying with the law, is to ensure that the people performing work are trained, regularly re-trained, supervised and regularly assessed with respect to the performance of their duties. This is particularly important in safety-sensitive positions where the possibility of error poses risk not only to those doing the work, but also customers and other members of the public. Following that path not only minimizes the actual possibility of error, it also helps an organization insulate itself from culpability, if an error is occurred.

It is impossible to really prepare people for risk, however, unless those risks are regularly re-assessed. This requires a commitment on the part of organizations to re-examine their business practices in search of potential risks and errors, which in turn means investing time and money.

No amount of money can make for better weather or guarantee that key personnel will pay attention at a crucial moment. However, the multiple examinations of the Lilgert case show that complacency, a failure to ensure equipment is in ideal working and unpreparedness for an emergency can have fatal consequences. The unique and dramatic facts of the Queen of the North disaster do not alter the universal significance of its causes. The task of organizations is not to be perfect, but to be duly diligent, and that includes examining how it can reduce the possibility of disaster by identify risks, altering practices and equipping people to make better decisions.


1 "Mariner convicted in Queen of the North ferry death to appeal verdict", May 14, 2013 by Rod Mickleburgh.

2 "Canada navigator guilty of two deaths in 2006 ferry crash". May 14, 2013

3 "Karl Lilgert to Appeal Queen of the North Conviction" by the Canadian Press. May 14, 2013.

4 "Karl Lilgert to appeal conviction" by Andrea MacPherson. May 14, 2013.

5 217.1 Every one who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Events from this Firm
8 Nov 2016, Seminar, Ottawa, Canada

The prospect of an internal investigation raises many thorny issues. This presentation will canvass some of the potential triggering events, and discuss how to structure an investigation, retain forensic assistance and manage the inevitable ethical issues that will arise.

22 Nov 2016, Seminar, Ottawa, Canada

From the boardroom to the shop floor, effective organizations recognize the value of having a diverse workplace. This presentation will explore effective strategies to promote diversity, defeat bias and encourage a broader community outlook.

7 Dec 2016, Seminar, Ottawa, Canada

Staying local but going global presents its challenges. Gowling WLG lawyers offer an international roundtable on doing business in the U.K., France, Germany, China and Russia. This three-hour session will videoconference in lawyers from around the world to discuss business and intellectual property hurdles.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.