In a recent decision 1, the Court of Québec (Criminal and Penal Division) handed down a sentence against C.F.G. Construction Inc. The business was found guilty 2 of criminal negligence causing the death of one of its workers pursuant to the provisions of the Criminal Code 3 governing criminal responsibility, a statute better known as "Act C-21" (or "Bill C-45").
In September 2012, one of C.F.G. Construction Inc.'s workers died in an accident involving a heavy-duty truck that belonged to the business.
On that day, the worker was instructed to pick up steel scraps and load the cargo container to maximum capacity. The worker died when he lost control of the truck in a curve at the bottom of a sloping forestry road.
At trial, the maintenance of the truck and condition of its system were at the heart of the dispute. The evidence revealed that the truck's entire brake system was in an advanced state of wear and bore signs of significant anomalies and a major imbalance. The truck's mechanical problems were known to the employer, as the worker himself had informed it a number of times of the truck's dilapidated condition. What is more, the maintenance mechanic's skills and the garage manager's recklessness were also at issue.
In its decision, the Court of Québec imposed a $300,000 fine on C.F.G. Construction Inc., a 15% victim fine surcharge bringing the total up to $345,000, and a three (3) year probation order with multiple conditions having a considerable financial impact on the business; these conditions included retaining the services of an external consultant to evaluate the appropriate remedies every year throughout the probation order period and providing all employees with annual training on the obligations and responsibilities of heavy-duty truck users and operators. Some of the aggravating factors the Court of Québec took into considerable include the consequences on the victim's family, the long period over which the offence was committed, knowledge of the risk, past regulatory infractions both before and after the events, and the risk of re-offending.
That said, the Court of Québec did consider the changes that the business made to the physical location for maintaining and repairing vehicles and machinery to be a mitigating factor.
This decision is an important reminder of the occupational health and safety obligations of employers. Since it came into force in 2004, Act C-21 (or Bill C-45) makes it easier to bring criminal and penal proceedings against organizations as well as their agents and officers where well-established breaches or negligent acts result in a serious bodily injury or the death of a person in the workplace. It is therefore crucial that all necessary means be taken to exercise due diligence, notably by adopting a proactive approach when an occupational health and safety issue is reported.
1 R. v. C.F.G. Construction Inc., 2019 QCCQ 7449. (French only)
2 R. v. C.F.G. Construction Inc., 2019 QCCQ 1244. Note that this guilty verdict has been appealed (C.F.G. Construction Inc. v. R., 2019 QCCA 514). (French only)
3 R.S.C. (1985), ch. C-46.
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