Fine of $750,000 for criminal negligence causing death in workplace accident 

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In a groundbreaking decision involving the sentencing of corporations under the Criminal Code, the Ontario Court of Appeal imposed a fine of $750,000 on Metron Construction Corporation for criminal negligence causing death.  The facts in R. v. Metron Construction Corporation (September 4, 2013) were indeed tragic.  On Christmas Eve in 2009, four construction workers working on a high-rise building in Toronto fell thirteen stories to their deaths when a defective scaffolding swing stage collapsed due to the weight of the workers and their equipment. The swing stages did not comply with certain requirements set out in regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “OHSA”) and were used improperly on the construction site.  The employer pleaded guilty to one count of criminal negligence causing death under the Criminal Code and was sentenced to a fine of $200,000.  The Crown appealed the sentence.
 
On appeal, the Ontario Court of Appeal noted that the sentencing judge’s reliance on the OHSA regulatory jurisprudence (which has a maximum fine of $500,000 for a corporation) reflected a failure to appreciate the higher degree of moral blameworthiness and gravity associated with convictions of criminal negligence causing death under the Criminal Code.   The Court of Appeal also found that the impact of a fine on the economic viability of the corporation, including the prospect of bankruptcy, was not determinative, and of little consequence in some cases. 

The Court of Appeal concluded that a fine of $200,000 was manifestly unfit, would fail to convey the importance of worker safety, and, to the contrary, could be seen to be a “cost of doing business” for corporate employers.  Based on the gravity of Metron’s offence, the victims, and the factors set out in the Criminal Code, the Court of Appeal allowed the Crown appeal and imposed a fine of $750,000.

In Our View

The decision in R. v. Metron Construction Corporation is the first of its kind in Ontario and serves as a stark warning to employers of the gravity of criminal sanctions under the Criminal Code.  Criminal offences are very different than regulatory offences and sentences imposed under the Criminal Code will reflect this.  Corporations can be criminally liable for the actions of their supervisors, and a corporation will not be able to distance itself from culpability based on the supervisor’s rank within the corporate structure.  Finally, the economic impact of a fine will not be a determinative factor in sentencing.  In a previous companion decision (R. v. Swartz, July 2012) Metron’s President and sole director pled guilty to four separate charges under the OHSA and was fined $90,000 plus the 25% victim fine surcharge.

For further information, please contact Jacques Emond at 613-940-2730.