Ontario Court of Appeal dismisses Metron project manager’s appeal: Jail sentence for workers’ deaths upheld

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scaffolding 2009
Site of the 2009 failure where four workers died and one was seriously injured (Toronto Star photo)

The Ontario Court of Appeal has denied an appeal by Metron project manager Vadim Kazenelson, who had been found guilty of criminal negligence causing death when a swing stage failed on Christmas Eve, 2009, causing four workers to die.

The appeal court judges ruled on Jan. 30 that the trial judge had determined the case correctly, confirming his sentence of three and a half years in prison concurrently on the charges.

Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) president Chris Buckley said appeal ruling confirms a historic decision that sends a strong message to every employer in the province.

“The message from the original Ontario court decision and this appeal decision echoes the campaign of the Ontario Federation of Labour: if you kill a worker, you will go to jail,” said Buckley. “No prison term or financial penalty can bring back the workers who died or undo the pain felt by their families, but this sentence has the power to prevent other workers from suffering a similar fate.”

The OFL launched its “Kill a Worker, Go to Jail” campaign immediately following the Metron tragedy in 2009, to demand jail time for bosses whose criminal negligence results in a worker’s death. The campaign saw success in 2012 when Metron Construction received Ontario’s first criminal conviction since the Criminal Code of Canada was amended in response to the 1992 Westray Mine Disaster.

While the company was fined over a million dollars, the company’s sole owner and director, Joel Swartz, escaped criminal conviction altogether.

However, In June 2015, an Ontario Superior Court found the Metron project manager, Vadim Kazenelson, guilty of five counts of criminal negligence. At the January 2016 sentencing hearing, Judge MacDonnell made clear that his decision to apply a significant term of imprisonment was meant to denounce the Metron manager’s failure to prevent “manifestly dangerous conditions” and carry a strong message of general deterrence to other employers in the province.

“This jail sentence was a historic verdict and marked the first time an Ontario employer faced criminal consequences for negligence causing the death of a worker,” said Buckley. “This has meant that employers can’t simply chalk up a worker’s life as a cost of doing business. The OFL will not stop campaigning until employers who put workers lives at risk, find themselves doing hard time in jail.”

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