Steelworkers lead protest over dismissal of criminal charges in death of truck driver

Labour activists yesterday protested the dismissal of criminal charges against a concrete company accused of negligence in a truck driver’s death. Cabinet two years ago promised to step up enforcement of a law that made employers criminally liable for needless industrial accidents.

“The consequences of workplace deaths and injuries must be more than a cost of doing business,” Marty Warren, Ontario director of the United Steelworkers, yesterday said in a statement: “Since the law was enacted, there have been more than 15,000 workplace-related deaths in Canada.”

Rainbow Concrete Ltd. of Sudbury, Ont. and the company’s owner in 2018 were charged with criminal negligence causing death. Charges followed a fatal 2017 accident in which a Rainbow truck driver was crushed by falling concrete at the company plant.

Crown prosecutors in a plea deal allowed Rainbow to admit guilt in exchange for payment of a $1,000 fine and $200,000 in damages to the trucker’s widow. All criminal sanctions were waived.

“Abandoning the criminal prosecution of a company’s owner in exchange for a $1,000 fine against the company and a gradual, $200,000 payment to the grieving family does not provide justice,” said Ken Neumann, United Steelworkers national director.

Parliament in 2003 passed Bill C-45 An Act To Amend The Criminal Code that extended liability to corporate officers who fail in their “legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm” on worksites. The bill followed the fatal 1992 Westray Coal explosion at Plymouth, N.S. in which the mine operator, Curragh Resources Inc., was charged with manslaughter and criminal negligence after RCMP alleged “wanton and reckless disregard” for miners.

The Westray charges were dismissed in 1997 following lengthy appeals that went to the Supreme Court. The Canadian Labour Congress in 2017 counted only four successful prosecutions under the Act.

“There is this culture where a workplace fatality is considered a health and safety issue, not a role for the criminal justice system,” Hassan Yussuff, president of the Labour Congress, earlier told reporters. “Crown prosecutors have been quite reluctant to apply the Criminal Code, and police have been reluctant to investigate.”

Labour Minister Patricia Hajdu in 2017 promised more vigorous enforcement of the Westray law. “We will do more to ensure that labour inspectors and law enforcement officials are properly trained in the provision of the law, and that they coordinate effectively to ensure the possibility of a charge for criminal negligence resulting in serious injury or death is not overlooked,” said Hajdu.

Union executives at the time expressed skepticism. “Honestly, I don’t see any meat on the bones,” said Sylvia Boyce, United Steelworkers health and safety coordinator. “What is it the government is going to do exactly?”