eCaseNote 2010 No. 01

CORPORATIONS ON TRIAL Extending “White Collar Crime”: Your company and the owner personally may be criminally liable for incidents on the job

R v. Millennium Crane Rentals Ltd., 2010

In April of 2009, James Vecchio, an employee of Millennium Crane Rentals Ltd. (“Millennium”), was killed on the job after being pinned under a crane at Sault Ste Marie’s landfill site. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the Canadian courts are now dealing with charges raised by way of an infrequently used law. Following an intensive police investigation, the crane operator, the crane owner, and Millennium, were all charged with criminal negligence causing death.

This case, to appear in Ontario courts this week, will likely be a wake-up call for many businesses and owners around the country. The law that supports this charge is not a new one, but this is only the fourth time it has been used since its inception in 2004, and the first time since 2008.

Bill C-45 is Federal legislation which was created in the wake of the Westray coal mining disaster in Nova Scotia. The end result is the alteration of the Criminal Code of Canada (“CCC”) to attribute criminal liability to organizations based on their representative’s actions. It also creates a strict legal duty for all persons who “direct the work of others”. This wording appears to have a very broad reach and could be applied to many levels within an organization. It is worth noting that while this was a Federal Bill, its resulting provisions in the CCC apply to federal, provincial and municipal governments, corporations, private companies, charities and non-governmental organizations.

Consequences of being convicted under these added provisions are very serious. Criminal negligence causing death is an indictable offence that has a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. There is also the possibility of fines with no set limits.

While it has been infrequently applied in the past, this may be a glimpse of things to come. Many lawyers anticipate public outcry fueling an increased police scrutiny of serious workplace accidents, with this provision being used to increase the liability of organizations and individuals. In the case of Millennium, these charges were made in addition to charges under the Occupational Health and Safety legislation, not in their place.

While the outcome of the case is yet to be decided, it serves as a reminder of the existence of this seldom-used provision of the CCC, its potential increased use due to public outcry, and the very real possibility of its application locally. As a result, business owners should know their legal obligations and their Occupational Health and Safety laws and standards.

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