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Bill C-45 sets precedent for largest OH&S Act fine ever.

As many of you know, Bill C-45 came into force March 31, 2004, amending the Criminal Code of Canada to increase the potential for criminal liability for workplace injuries or fatalities.

Section 217.1 of the Criminal Code was amended to read:

"Everyone 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 the work or task."

The over-reaching language of this section seems to suggest a fundamental shift in the enforcement of workplace health and safety, from provincial quasi-criminal prosecutions to aggressively pursued federal criminal prosecutions.

Less than a month after Bill C-45 came into force, on April 19, a charge was laid under the Criminal Code pursuant to the Bill. A construction worker was fatally injured when the trench in which he was working collapsed on top of him. Both the Ministry of Labour and the York Regional Police investigated the fatality. The individual contractor was charged by the police under the Criminal Code with criminal negligence causing death. He was also charged by the ministry with three offences under the Occupational Health & Safety Act.

The criminal charges were recently withdrawn by the Crown when the contractor agreed to plead guilty to the three Occupational Health & Safety Act offences. The contractor agreed to pay a fine of $50,000. Although the contractor did not see jail time, $50,000 is amongst the highest fines ever assessed for an individual under the Occupational Health & Safety Act. It is assumed the contractor agreed to such a fine in order to have the criminal charges dropped. At the end of the day it seems as if the charges under Bill C-45 were used as a bargaining tool to encourage the settlement of the charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

It is believed that this is the only charge under Bill C-45 since it became law.

Victoria R. Chiappetta is a lawyer with the Sault Ste. Marie office of Mathews, Dinsdale & Clark LLP. Her practice is restricted to labour and employment on behalf of management.
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Author:Chiappetta, Victoria R.
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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