Government Charged Following Workplace Fatality

The Canadian government has been charged following a boiler explosion in Ottawa that occurred on October 19th, 2009. The explosion took place at the Cliff Central Heating and Cooling Plant near Parliament Hill, resulting in the death of an engineer, and seriously injuring others. Federal health and safety officers had recommended that several charges be laid against the government in connection with the event.

The charges were laid on Tuesday, October 19th, 2010, the deadline to bring charges against the government. The charges allege health and safety violations of the Canada Labour Code by Public Works Government Services Canada. Applicable penalties are a sentence of up to two years in prison, or a $1 million fine. The charges are the result of an investigation conducted in April. The investigation revealed multiple safety violations, which had been directed to be fixed. The investigation also revealed that the plant had no proper emergency procedure, that employees were not familiar with the standard operating manuals, and that the company that serviced the boilers was not certified.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt apologized for the unsafe working conditions at the plant during Question Period on October 19th, 2010. She explained that a review had been completed and that charges were laid against Public Works as a result. Raitt affirmed the government’s commitment to fostering safe and healthy workplaces.

The charges against Public Works result in a peculiar situation: a federal department cannot be sentenced to jail, and a fine would simply be symbolic as the funds would be directed back to the federal government. To date, no government in Canada has faced a similar charge, although there have been some cases against other employers in the past.