The former owner of an auto body shop in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia was recently charged with criminal negligence causing death under federal Bill C-45, colloquially known as the “Westray Bill.” The charges relate to a 2013 workplace accident where a car caught fire causing the death of a 58-year-old mechanic. This is the first charge under the Westray Bill against a Nova Scotia employer.
The Westray Bill was passed in 2004 and amended the Criminal Code to impose criminal liability on employers who fail to ensure the safety of their workers. The Westray Bill was created in the wake of the 1992 Westray mine disaster, where 26 miners were killed by a methane explosion in a coal mine in Plymouth, Nova Scotia.
Although the amendments have now existed for over a decade, convictions under the Westray Bill remain rare. However, we may be experiencing a shift toward greater enforcement. In July, 2015, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice registered Ontario’s first convictions against and individual when it found a construction site manager guilty of four counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm in relation to a construction accident that caused multiple fatalities.
Although it remains to be seen whether criminal prosecutions for workplace accidents will become more prevalent in Canada, these cases highlight the stark consequences of lax approaches to workplace health and safety.