On March 22, 2006, B.C. Ferries' vessel
The Queen of the North missed a scheduled turn causing it to run
aground and sink off the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
Fifty-seven passengers and forty-two crew members abandoned ship
before it sank. Two passengers were never found and were declared
dead. On May 13, 2013, seven years later, Karl Lilgert, the Queen
of the North's navigation officer, was convicted of two counts of criminal
negligence, following a 4 month jury trial. The basis for
these charges? The expanded scope of criminal negligence under
the Criminal Code, which applies to employers and
employees whose negligence causes bodily injuries or death arising
out of the performance of their work. Here, it applied to an
employee, Karl Lilgert, whose negligence in the performance of his
work caused bodily injuries and deaths.
The Expanded Scope of Criminal Negligence
The trial of Mr. Lilgert is the first criminal negligence jury
trial for an individual acting in the course of his or her
employment since the enactment of Bill C-45. Bill C-45, which came
into force March 31, 2004, amended Canada's Criminal
Code to significantly expand the scope of criminal liability
for employers and employees. Bill C-45 supplements existing
provincial and federal occupational health and safety legislation.
It was intended to make criminal negligence convictions against
employers and employees easier to obtain – an objective that,
to date, has been met.
In particular, the Criminal Code now imposes a duty on
individuals and organizations to take "reasonable steps"
to prevent "death" or "bodily harm" to a worker
or any other person, and makes it a criminal offence for employers
and employees to fail to adhere to these duties.
At trial, it was determined that Mr. Lilgert was alone on the
bridge with helmswoman Karen Briker before the vessel ran aground.
Mr. Lilgert and Ms. Briker had previously had an affair. The Crown
pointed to electronic records to show that the vessel did not alter
course for 20 minutes before the crash. The Crown argued that
Mr. Lilgert was distracted by Ms. Briker shortly before the crash,
causing Mr. Lilgert to be inattentive.
Lessons for Employers and Employees
There are a number of lessons that employers, and their
employees, should take from the Queen of the North tragedy and its
Employers and employees across Canada can be criminally liable
for their actions on the job. This can lead to significant
fines and jail time.
Having regard to this risk, investments should be made in
health and safety management as well as safety training and
Employers should ensure that all employees are fully aware of
their safety obligations and that they are trained and regularly
re-trained in this regard.
Employers should also ensure that employees adhere to their
safely obligations at all times, which includes remedying safety
concerns as soon as they are discovered.
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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