Crown drops criminal negligence charges under Bill C-45

May 17, 2011

In the provincial Crown’s third attempt to prosecute an individual under the Bill C-45 amendments to the Criminal Code, the Crown has dropped the charges against two individuals who were charged with criminal negligence causing death in the context of a workplace fatality in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Separate charges were also laid under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The charges were the result of an accident in 2009 in which a municipal worker died after a crane backed into an excavation hole he was working in at a municipal landfill in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. The owner of the crane rental company and the crane operator were charged with criminal negligence causing death. The charge alleged that these individuals failed to take reasonable steps to ensure that the crane was “properly maintained, inspected, in good safe operating condition and not having any mechanical deficiencies”.

The Crown explained that the reason the charges were dropped was that the expert evidence, an engineer’s report, did not establish whether the crane’s brakes had the capacity to stop the crane from entering the excavation. Thus, the report was insufficient to prove causation (i.e., that the negligence directly contributed to the death) beyond reasonable doubt, which was necessary for the criminal charge to be successful. Accordingly, the Crown decided to drop the criminal charges. Despite the Crown’s decision regarding the criminal charges, the charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act are expected to proceed.

To date there have been two successful cases in which criminal negligence charges laid under the C-45 amendments to the Criminal Code have led to a conviction, both in Quebec. A third case, in Ontario, remains undecided. These cases should serve as a reminder to employers of their potential criminal liability for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent workplace injuries or death.

In order to avoid facing criminal charges in the event of an accident, employers should ensure that they, and their employees, comply with applicable occupational health and safety laws and work to actively identify and eliminate workplace hazards.

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