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Courts can bankrupt companies for criminal health and safety violations

The Court of Appeal for Ontario has fined Metron Construction Corporation $750,000 for the Criminal Code offence of criminal negligence causing death. The penalty was issued as part of a detailed decision allowing a Crown appeal of the fine of $200,000 originally imposed on Metron following its July 13, 2012, guilty plea to the criminal charge issued after five workers were injured, four fatally, after falling thirteen storeys on Dec. 24, 2009. 

In granting the appeal, the Court of Appeal found that the sentencing court erred in the application of sentencing principles and imposed a fine that was manifestly unfit.

There are many notable findings and comments in the decision including:

• the Court of Appeal’s endorsement that corporate criminal liability can be based solely on the actions of a supervisor

• a conviction for criminal negligence causing death is distinguishable from a regulatory health and safety conviction and the sentence imposed must reflect that difference

• a corporation cannot distance itself from the conduct of a supervisor based on the supervisor’s rank in the corporate hierarchy or level of managerial responsibility

• sentencing courts can impose sentences that threaten the viability of corporations.

Metron is the first corporation in Ontario to be convicted under the criminal negligence provisions of the Criminal Code, as amended by Bill C-45 in 2004, involving workplace health and safety. The fine imposed by the Court of Appeal is the largest fine ever imposed on a corporation for criminal negligence relating to a health and safety violation and the decision is the first detailed analysis from an appellate court on the sentencing factors applicable to corporations under the Criminal Code.  

Jeremy Warning

Jeremy Warning is a former OHS prosecutor who is now a partner at Mathews Dinsdale & Clark in Toronto. He can be reached at (647) 777-8284 or jwarning@mathewsdinsdale.com, or visit www.mathewsdinsdale.com for more information.
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