Quebec company fined $110,000 in worker's death

Judge cites lack of intent and $500,000 in upgrades as mitigating factors in ruling

In a historic sentencing, a Quebec court has ordered a company convicted of criminal negligence in the death of a worker to pay $110,000.

Last December Transpavé, a paving-stone manufacturer in Saint-Eustache, Que., pleaded guilty to criminal negligence in the 2005 death of 23-year-old Steve L'Écuyer.

Quebec court Judge Paul Chevalier handed down the $110,000 fine on March 17. Andrée Beaulieu, L'Écuyer's mother, told reporters she was disappointed with the fine and that she had expected a penalty in the millions.

In October 2005, L'Écuyer was crushed by a machine that stacks concrete blocks after pallets with concrete had backed up on the conveyer belt. Inspectors found the machine's safety guard had been disabled for nearly two years.

Transpavé was charged with, and pleaded guilty to, criminal negligence causing death under the amendments to the Criminal Code brought in by Bill C-45, known as the “corporate killing law.” This was the first criminal conviction since the amendments came into force in 2004.

In his ruling, the judge said the company, managers and employees weren't aware that the safety guard wasn't working and that there was no intent on the company's part for the system to be down.

He also stated the fine reflected the company's willingness to take responsibility for the incident and the $500,000 in safety upgrades the company has made since 2006 to bring the plant in line with European standards, which are more stringent than North American standards.

In a statement after the sentencing, the company reiterated its "most sincere regrets to L'Écuyer's family."

In its own written statement, the Quebec Federation of Labour stated company managers should have been held accountable for the incident, not just the company as a corporate entity. Only a significant fine, for which they would be personally responsible for paying, will make managers truly value employee health and safety, said Michel Arsenault, president of the federation.

Arsenault also said the Crown botched the case by describing the company as exemplary in its health and safety record while there were numerous health and safety complaints lodged against the company.

However, Transpave's lawyer Claude Mageau said a safety commission employee testified that while there were complaints, there were no convictions or fines.

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