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Steelworkers denounce plea agreement in worker's death

Crown dropped criminal negligence causing death charge against Rainbow Concrete owner
United Steelworkers (USW) international president Leo Gerard listens to a speaker during the USW's Canadian National Policy Congress in Ottawa April 18, 2007. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

The United Steelworkers (USW) is denouncing a plea agreement in an Ontario court that imposes a fine against a concrete manufacturer for a worker's death, while dismissing a criminal charge against the company's owner.

On Tuesday, Feb. 12, a judge in the Ontario Court of Justice in Sudbury accepted a plea agreement in which Rainbow Concrete pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing the death of one of the company's employees, Rheal Dionne. Dionne, 39, was killed on Feb. 15, 2017, when a concrete slab fell on the truck he was operating, trapping him inside. As part of the plea agreement accepted on Tuesday, the crown dropped a charge of criminal negligence causing death against the owner of Rainbow Concrete, Boris Naneff.

"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 for the family," said USW national director for Canada, Ken Neumann. "It is a consequence that will not serve as a deterrent to employers who view such penalties for workplace deaths and injuries as a cost of doing business."

The agreement calls for a $1,000 fine against the company and a payment of $200,000 to Dionne's family, to be paid gradually over several months with completion in mid-2020.

"The Westray Law was enacted in 2004 to hold employers criminally responsible for workplace deaths and injuries," said Marty Warren, USW Ontario and Atlantic Canada director.

"Since the law was enacted, there have been more than 15,000 workplace-related deaths in Canada, but there have been very few criminal convictions and even fewer jail sentences for employers responsible for these deaths," Warren said. "The consequences of workplace deaths and injuries must be more than a cost of doing business."

Dionne is survived by his wife and their nine-year-old son, as well as his parents Suzanne and Julien Dionne, the latter a retired USW Local 6500 member in Sudbury who was a lifelong workplace health and safety activist. USW Local 6500 representatives provided support to the family throughout the criminal prosecution process.

"The system has not provided justice to Rheal Dionne's young family. Placing a monetary value on a worker's life was not the intent of the Westray Law. The law was not intended to continue to simply impose fines on companies, while families are left to suffer emotionally and financially for the rest of their lives," said USW Local 6500 president Nick Larochelle.

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