An Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences by corporations, directors and officers)

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.

Sponsor

Bev Desjarlais  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Feb. 26, 2001
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

June 10th, 2002 / 3:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Andy Scott Liberal Fredericton, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 14th report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Pursuant to its order of reference of February 26 the committee has undertaken a statutory review of the mental disorder provisions of the criminal code and has prepared this report. Pursuant to Standing Order 109 the committee requests that the government provide a comprehensive response within 150 days of the tabling of this report in the House of Commons.

Further, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 15th report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Pursuant to its order of reference of February 19 the committee has considered the subject matter of Bill C-284, an act to amend the criminal code (offences by corporations, directors and officers), and recommends that the government table in the House legislation to deal with the criminal liability of corporations, directors and officers. Pursuant to Standing Order 109 the committee requests that the government provide a comprehensive response within 150 days of the tabling of this report in the House of Commons.

I wish to thank the members of the committee. Both of these reports were unanimous and that is reliant on the goodwill and good effort of all members. I wish to thank them and staff on both counts.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

February 19th, 2002 / 5:55 p.m.
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NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

moved:

That Bill C-284, an act to amend the Criminal Code (offences by corporations, directors and officers), be not now read the second time but that the order be discharged, the bill withdrawn and the subject matter thereof be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 8th, 2001 / 6:20 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have enjoyed listening to the views of members from all parties in the House. On behalf of the hon. member for Churchill I thank all members for the thoughtfulness that has gone into their remarks. It is plain to see that everyone in the House from all parties takes the issue seriously. I appreciate the thoughtful research that has gone into all the speeches I have heard so far.

There is one thing we must keep in mind as we enter a debate of this nature that can be so emotional. Canadians get up in the morning and go to work to earn a living, not to die. Canadians must adopt the fundamental attitude shift that it is possible to run clean, safe and healthy workplaces and still be profitable.

We must realize that safety is not a cost factor. Unfortunately there are sectors within the business community where that is the mentality. There are those who believe safety is a cost factor and that it would cost money to run a safe workplace as opposed to a dangerous one.

I challenge that logic. Until people adopt the view that it is more fiscally responsible to run a clean, safe and healthy workplace, we will need legislation that motivates employers to adopt that view.

All Canadians were horrified when 26 miners were killed on May 9, 1992. Canadians were even more horrified when they learned the crown prosecutors of the province of Nova Scotia had to stay all charges against the operators of the mine because under the existing criminal code they could not make the charges stick. This was in spite of overwhelming evidence of gross negligence and wilful blindness toward workplace safety and health.

At the Westray inquiry Justice Peter Richard used some of the strongest language any of us have seen in a document of that nature. He pulled no punches. He said it was a case of gross negligence and wilful blindness.

One would think it would be quite simple and straightforward to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths. We know after hearing witnesses at the Westray inquiry that the company did not just commit acts of omission. It did not just ignore workplace health and safety. It actively encouraged workers to do unsafe things. This was the most glaring evidence we have ever seen in an investigation into workplace accident or death.

We have heard people like the member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough and the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada point out that in cases like this the burden of proof is onerous. In this case it was not. It was blatantly obvious. It should have resulted in someone being charged, fined or punished.

Bill C-284 seeks to give federal prosecutors the tools they need to make such charges stick so we would not have to face similar situations where after their best efforts prosecutors must drop or stay charges that should otherwise be straightforward and simple.

Bill C-284 is about accountability, a word we often hear in the House of Commons. It is about corporate accountability or responsibility. Someone must take responsibility. Accountability goes right up the corporate ladder. It extends from frontline supervisors, managers and directors of the board all the way to the CEO.

It is not a justifiable excuse for CEOs to say their work is in the office, that they have never set foot in the plant or that it is only one of many enterprises they have under their direction and control. That is no excuse. The buck should not stop at the frontline manager who works in the plant where the offence might have taken place. The buck stops at the CEO's desk. If CEOs do not know what is happening in their plants they have an obligation to know.

If Bill C-284 went through they would make a point of knowing. People would not accept directorships on boards without first asking solid questions about the enterprises that would be under their control. They would ask if reasonable steps were being taken to ensure the workplace was safe so that there would be no problem.

Three people a day are killed on the job in Canada. That is over 1,000 a year. I am not saying they would all result in prosecutions if Bill C-284 became law. That would be rare because such cases would need to meet all the tests and burden of proof as in any criminal charge. There would be an investigation and if the evidence were there someone would be charged. That would be a deterrent. It would clean up workplaces.

If Bill C-284 were in effect executives would take an instant interest in the workplaces under their control. They would ensure that basic, reasonable steps in workplace safety and health were taken. Smart managers and CEOs know that a clean, healthy and safe workplace is more profitable and that safety is not a cost factor. I will give the House an example.

Two years ago the province of Manitoba lost 50,000 person days to strikes and lockouts. In the same period the province lost 550,000 person days to injuries on the job. Managers, directors and corporations interested in productivity and profitability should know that eliminating 550,000 person days lost to injuries on the job would surely affect their bottom line.

The member for Dartmouth mentioned brother Dick Martin, a close friend of mine and the former head of local 6166 of the steelworkers union. Dick Martin dedicated his life to trying to elevate conditions for working people. He founded the occupational health centre in the province of Manitoba when he was president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour.

Dick and I met a number of times as Bill C-284 was being developed. Dick took a strong personal interest in the bill. Unfortunately he passed away last week and will not be with us to see the bill come to fruition. His funeral was last Sunday.

In recognizing the important work Dick has done I also want to take note of the important work the United Steelworkers of America has done in advocating on behalf of Westray families.

In the nearly 10 years since May 9, 1992, the only group that has consistently hung in with the Westray families and promoted and pushed this kind of legislation has been the United Steelworkers of America. It is to its great credit that Bill C-284 has come as far along as it has.

Twelve lobbyists with the steelworkers came to the Hill last year and worked out of my office. Many of them had worked at the Westray mine. Two were dragger men who had pulled bodies out of the mine. They visited virtually every member of parliament to encourage parliamentarians to implement a bill much like the one we have here which would require some form of corporate accountability and responsibility for workplace safety and health.

Their visit prompted the justice committee to call a special meeting to hear representations from the steelworkers. That is what prompted the committee to unanimously endorse a motion which appealed to the Minister of Justice to introduce legislation that would implement article 73 of the Westray inquiry recommendations. This would amend the criminal code to include corporate murder and corporate manslaughter and thereby give prosecutors the tools they need to make criminal charges stick in the event of wilful blindness and gross negligence to worker safety and health.

We are looking forward to a third hour of debate and a vote on the bill. We strongly hope members of parliament on all sides will find it in their hearts to adopt this important amendment to the criminal code on behalf of all Canadian workers.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 8th, 2001 / 6:05 p.m.
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Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks, I would hope that the Chair would indulge me and the House, just in keeping with personal and professional accountability, and allow me to advise the House and the Chair that I sent a letter to the Prime Minister's office after hearing the Speaker's ruling today. I wish to just read that letter:

I wish to unreservedly withdraw the allegation of improper conduct that I made in the House of Commons earlier this week.

Turning to Bill C-284, I commend the hon. member for Churchill for bringing the issue forward. I will begin by stating that the Progressive Conservative/Democratic Representative Coalition will give its initial support to the bill. We certainly believe this continues to be a timely and important issue, one which should be placed before the justice committee. I believe there is a willingness on the part of the department and the minister herself to permit that to happen.

I can say with a great deal of sincerity and emotion that this hits very close to home. In fact the place where I grew up is a neighbouring community to Plymouth, where the Westray mine rests and where the bodies of those 26 men continue to rest underground.

May 9, 1992, the day that the Westray mine in Plymouth, Nova Scotia blew up killing 26 men, is a day that the people of Pictou county, in fact the people of Canada, will not forget.

Although we have concerns about the way in which the bill has been drafted in terms of its scope, we certainly support seeing the bill, this issue, continue through the process and to the justice committee for proper review. It will take far more than criminal code amendments to deal with this issue in a proper fashion. As the parliamentary secretary quite properly stated, this is a complex issue. It is an issue involving provincial jurisdictions; it is an issue involving provincial legislation.

Bill C-284 speaks of the need to bring about greater accountability on the part of corporations. It includes acts or omissions, and rightly so, because of what happened in the case of Westray, which was encapsulated in a report tabled by Mr. Justice Peter Richards after hearing numerous testimony.

His report “The Westray Story: A Predictable Path to Disaster” highlighted the acts of omission on the part of provincial safety inspectors and mine managers in making legitimate and real attempts to prevent a situation that was known all too well to those miners, many of whom escaped by the simple fortune of not being in the mine that day. I knew some of those men whose names were read into the record by the hon. member for Dartmouth. In fact, as a summer student with Satellite Construction, I had worked on the site of the Westray mine during its construction phase.

Criminal negligence and in particular manslaughter by criminal negligence is perhaps arguably one of the most difficult sections of the criminal code to prove. It involves proving the intention. It involves proving the mens rea. Particularly when the mens rea is an act of omission, this is a very difficult criminal matter to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

The bill is very similar to a private member's motion which I presented. It was the first private member's motion that I was permitted to submit upon being elected to the House in 1997. That motion, Motion No. 455, and later Motion No. 79, was passed and received overwhelming all party support to proceed to the justice committee.

That motion dealt specifically with the amendment of the criminal code and all appropriate federal statutes in accordance with recommendation 73 of the Nova Scotia public inquiry into the Westray disaster and was specifically focused at holding corporate executives and directors accountable for workplace safety.

Mr. Justice Richards' report was a direct message to this and all federal governments that there is a responsibility that rests on the Parliament of Canada to take steps to ensure workplace safety.

The issue is seen, understandably, as being predominantly under provincial jurisdiction, but human safety is something that all legislatures have to take responsibility for.

I have some concerns regarding the reverse onus of the legislation, yet the need for workplace safety overrides that concern. There is a pressing if not urgent need to delve into this issue.

Those who are in the corporate world, who sit on boards of directors, who sometimes take very little hands-on control of the day to day running and operations of businesses would be encouraged, I would suggest compelled, to show greater concern and insight into what is happening in those businesses to ensure that elements of safety exist, to ensure it is a priority for those corporations lest they be found to be criminally responsible when horrible disasters occur such as what occurred at the Westray mine.

That tragedy in Plymouth, Nova Scotia reminds us that all corporations in that world should hold concern for their employees as among their top priorities. They have to see them as people and not only look at the bottom line in terms of financial gain.

As was previously mentioned, other jurisdictions have dealt with this issue and legislated in this area, Australia and Great Britain to mention a couple. I want to take a moment to express again, as I have before in the context of this legislation, my sincere thanks and the thanks of the people of Pictou county to the draegermen and the emergency response teams who arrived on the scene in the aftermath of that explosion. They put their own safety at risk and entered the mine shaft in the vain hope of rescuing survivors of that explosion.

The attempt to locate the 26 men who died in that mine underground remains a testament to the bravery and selflessness of those workers. Many of those draegermen came from Cape Breton, an area which has endured more than its own share of mining tragedy. The people of Pictou county will never forget the assistance that was offered.

I might add that many of those emergency response workers from the local area and the province of Nova Scotia again rallied to the cause in the Swissair disaster off the coast of Peggy's Cove. Once again those individuals deserve our bottomless thanks for what they did and the quality of mercy they showed during that troubled time.

Pictou county has a long and rich tradition of coal mining. The Pictou coalfield has been mined for nearly 200 years, yet there has always been danger in the mining and in the thick and gassy coal seams that are found there. The Foord and Wimpey seams in particular are notorious for their volatility.

As the need for coal diminished, Westray was the only operational underground coal mine in Pictou county at the time of the explosion in 1992. Management's disregard for worker safety combined with the workers' need to keep their jobs seemed to cause a sense of urgency in keeping the mine going. There were financial pressures that were brought to bear as well. What a heartbreaking tragedy it was in terms of the loss of lives. If that mine were operating today, the economic advantage would flow to an area that is very economically depressed. That remains part of that tragedy. If that mine had been properly managed, I would suggest it would still be operating.

Turning back to this bill, and my previous motion, this is an attempt by the opposition, by all members of parliament, to remind the government and ourselves that we must do everything in our power to ensure there is workplace safety. We have to be engaged actively with those in the labour community to ensure we are doing our utmost to protect workers on the job.

There is a need for safety in mining but also in farming, manufacturing, fish plants, in all areas where danger lurks in any occupation. Too often death and injury in the workplace, in the fullness of time, is discovered to have been avoidable.

It is a daunting task to try to enact legislation and to put into law provisions that would protect and encourage those in the industry to abide by legislative initiatives to ensure safety. Yet a criminal code provision, a law that would help ensure accountability, is one such way to do so, leading to higher levels of accountability among executives, CEOs and management in companies. It certainly is a worthwhile exercise for us.

Those who make decisions in the workplace that affect workplace safety need to be held accountable. The bill speaks of fines. It speaks of greater corporate activity in terms of knowledge. It speaks of executives being actively engaged in the workplace over which they preside. It would create offences and penalties for the corporate sector.

After eight years in office the Liberal government has a mandate to address the issue. It has the mandate by virtue not only of private members' bills and motions but of this report and the fact that the problems continue to exist day to day. The tragedy of September 11 increased the need for security in all sectors but the situation in the workplace is omnipresent.

During the public inquiry into the Westray matter the criminal prosecution proceeded through the courts all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The prosecutors in the case had a very difficult time presenting evidence due to procedural interference. This highlights the need for amendments to the criminal code.

We look forward to having the opportunity to revisit this debate in the House but more so in committee where we will hear from stakeholders and individuals who can advise us how to improve workplace safety nationally.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 8th, 2001 / 5:55 p.m.
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Waterloo—Wellington Ontario

Liberal

Lynn Myers LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter the debate with respect to Bill C-284. The bill is essentially the same as Bill C-259 in the last parliament. The only change is that the maximum fine has been doubled to $2 million.

The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights held a single day of hearings on the issue in the last parliament. No submissions were heard from the corporate sector, or from any experts in criminal law or for that matter the charter of rights and freedoms. There was no review of what was being done in other countries and no presentations were made with respect to specific legislation abroad.

The committee passed a motion that the criminal code or other appropriate federal statutes should be amended after consideration by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in accordance with recommendation 73 of the inquiry into the Westray disaster by the province of Nova Scotia. Given the brevity of the committee's hearing, it is understandable that it called for changes without specifying precisely what those changes should be.

The issue of corporate liability for criminal acts is complex and has been the subject of study by legislatures and courts for many years. There is no simple solution.

Attempts to reform the law in this area invariably require a great deal of study. In Britain the law commission began consulting on the law of manslaughter, including corporate responsibility for wrongful death in 1994. In May 2000, six years after the study began, the government accepted in principle the law commission's recommendation to create a new offence of corporate killing. It then proceeded to further consult on some points. No legislation has yet been introduced.

Australia passed new legislation dealing with corporate criminal liability in 1995, but the legislation was to come into force on proclamation or after five years to allow time to prepare for the changes. The process there began in 1987 with a report by experts reviewing the criminal law. The proposals were then studied by the standing committee of attorneys general and by the model criminal code officers committee.

We do not have to follow the approach taken in Australia or England in changing the law. We can make use of their experience and, more important, we can deal with a narrower question. What changes need to be made to make the criminal law reflect the reality of business in the 21st century?

Both the British and Australian processes were much wider with corporate liability as just one of many issues. Nevertheless, we must expect to take time to consider the issue fully because we will have to wrestle with very complex issues such as: Who for the purposes of criminal law is the corporation?

In some cases this may be clear. An individual often is the mind directing a large corporation and what that individual thinks and does is what the corporation thinks and does. However, if someone is killed in an industrial accident in a corporate office, it is quite probable that the individual who is the directing mind has never set foot in that office and has absolutely no idea of working conditions.

Bill C-284 proposes one model for determining who is the corporation by assigning criminal liability to a corporation for acts and omissions of directors, officers or persons to whom day to day management of a part of the company's activities has been delegated .

This is, at least on the surface, somewhat wider than the current Canadian law which looks to the directing mind of the corporation, but it does not appear to be as broad as the American vicarious liability standard.

However the proposed legislation still requires an examination of the corporate structure. How much control is implied by day to day management and what is a part of the corporation? Would this mean that a retailer is criminally responsible for the actions of the head of a shipping department in one of its stores even when he or she acted directly contrary to specific instructions? We must have legal advice on the implications of the proposed wording because these are important questions.

Should the change in the law be general or specific to certain offences?

The criminal code currently includes Her Majesty, public bodies, bodies corporate, societies and companies as persons, so that all of the offences in the code would apply to corporations, to the extent that a corporation is capable of committing them.

The leading case of Canadian Dredge and Dock, for example, dealt with a conspiracy to defraud. The Westray principals were charged with manslaughter and causing death by criminal negligence.

Bill C-284 both makes a corporation liable for any offence of which an individual could be found guilty and creates a separate new offence for a corporation of failing to take reasonable steps to provide safe working conditions. It is not clear why this particular offence should apply only to corporations. It is possible for a government to turn a blind eye to the many violations and not enforce the laws that are in fact on the books.

As I previously stated, in England the government has accepted a proposal by the law commission to create a new offence of corporate killing, where death results from corporate conduct far below the standard of what is reasonably to be expected. Fashioning a specific offence for a corporation might, in the result, prove to be the best approach.

The Australians, however, did not choose to proceed in this fashion. They created a new part which begins with the general principle “This code applies to bodies corporate in the same way as it applies to individuals. It so applies with such modifications as are set out in this part, and with such other modifications as are made necessary by the fact criminal liability is being imposed on bodies corporate rather than individuals”. The part then sets out rules regarding such matters as how to determine negligence.

In a paper prepared for the Uniform Law Conference, Professor Anne-Marie Boisvert of the faculty of law of the University of Montreal in 1999 recommended that there should be codified a notion of corporate fault that is more closely related to the way in which bodies corporate actually operate. She also recommended that there should be a distinct part of the criminal code expressly covering corporations. Such a part would define the conditions under which a corporation can be criminally liable; provide that any body corporate including not for profit corporations may be held liable; define what is an act of the corporation; clarify whether a corporation can raise such defences as necessity or compulsion by threats; and define what constitutes fault.

On what basis do we attribute criminal intent to a corporation? This too is a very important question.

The directing mind test, especially because it requires the same responsible person to have the necessary intent and to commit the offence, may not fit well with the way complex organizations work with head offices issuing directives, regional offices interpreting them and local managers implementing them.

It is highly unlikely that evidence will be found of a single person in a large corporation who issued an order to break the law. The actual criminal activity may be, as was the case in Westray, the result of many officers and employees of the company cutting corners.

Bill C-284 follows to some extent the recent changes to the law in Australia which provide that where negligence is a fault element and no individual in the company has that fault element, it is possible to find the necessary fault by proving that a corporate culture existed that directed, encouraged, tolerated or led to non-compliance.

It is important that we note a number of these issues. It is important that we deal with them appropriately. They are important questions.

I want to simply say in summary that while we recognize the desire of the sponsor of the bill to ensure that the criminal law copes better with potentially criminal activity by corporations, we are not convinced that Bill C-284 is necessarily the best model. Significantly more study and very broad consultation are required before the House can be satisfied that it has fashioned the best amendments to the criminal law.

Finally, I feel it is appropriate to remind members of the House that the criminal law always requires the highest level of proof, namely, proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Given the complexities of modern corporations, any criminal investigation is going to be lengthy and complex. Criminal law and criminal trials will also be long and complex.

The charge to the jury in the leading case, Canadian Dredge and Dock, took 11 days. It is highly unlikely that the investigation or prosecution of those charges would have been any simpler if the crown had to prove a corporate culture.

For this reason, it is vital that we ensure that the law governing Canadian corporations has appropriate penalties for breaches of safety. Action to prevent tragedies will always be more effective than trying to use criminal law after the fact.

This is an important issue, one well worth debating in the House. I look forward to listening to other members of parliament on this very important issue.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 8th, 2001 / 5:40 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to address Bill C-284, an act to amend the criminal code, sponsored by my hon. colleague from Churchill.

The bill would amend the criminal code in order to introduce new provisions for corporate criminal liability. Bill C-284 originated in response to the horrible catastrophe that occurred at the Westray mine in Stellarton, Nova Scotia in 1992 in which 26 people, just named by my hon. colleague, were killed.

On May 9, 1992, all the miners in the Westray mine were killed following an explosion that could have been prevented. A commission of inquiry was established under Mr. Justice Richard of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. Mr. Justice Richard concluded that the miners were in no way responsible for the explosion but rather that safety conditions at the mine were at fault.

It was also revealed that the miners who worked at Westray had been attempting to reform their working conditions but to no avail. Their efforts were seemingly ignored by management, by regulators and by the government.

Justice Richard recommended that parliament introduce criminal code amendments to strengthen corporate criminal liability and to introduce a new offence of corporate killing.

Since that time there have been two legislative initiatives in this regard. Bill C-259, similar to the current bill, was introduced by the member for Halifax in the 36th parliament. The member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough later introduced a motion to bring forth similar legislation and the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights voted unanimously to act in accordance with the motion. The bill was introduced in this new parliament and we have it before us today.

Bill C-284 contains provisions that would have the effect of holding directors and officers of corporations criminally liable for the actions or omissions of the employees of a corporation. It would also hold directors and officers criminally liable for failing to provide a safe working environment for employees. Both the United Kingdom and Australia have embarked upon similar legislative provisions.

I will begin my assessment by stating that I believe in principle with the general intention of the bill in addressing the issue of negligence on the part of corporations in providing safe working conditions for employees. I believe all actors in society, including corporations and government agencies, act rationally in their own self-interest and that it therefore makes sense to craft laws that provide incentives to act in a manner that promotes the well-being of their employees and of their clients.

I do however have certain concerns with the bill in its current form. I believe we must tread very carefully in our legislative endeavours for fear that we may inadvertently alter our legal system in such a fashion as to provide a basis for criminal culpability without criminal intent, which would not be congruent with natural justice.

I believe firmly that in any case of criminal prosecution the person or persons absolutely responsible for any acts or omissions must be held accountable. Generally, however, the larger a corporation gets the more divorced the directors are from day to day operations and decision making by management. I do not mention this fact to deflect responsibility from these directors. I mention it in order that we may most accurately direct matters of investigation, responsibility and prevent potential culpability in order to ensure that the intended end of fewer workplace deaths is actually achieved.

Directors of corporations tend to deal with issues such as strategic marketing and profit margins, whereas middle management tends to deal with operations on the ground. Is it fair to say that the manager who oversees the safety conditions in the factory is not ultimately responsible for the safety conditions in the factory, whereas the director who spends his or her time studying pie charts relating to relative market share is culpable of corporate killing?

If corporate directors knew of the risks involved, as they did at Westray, then they should face penalties. If they did not, and could not reasonably be expected to do so, then no culpability can properly be assigned.

Our criminal code contains provisions for criminal negligence. Perhaps these need to be strengthened for there is no question that workplaces are responsible for the safe conduct of business. Should we go down a path that would automatically pursue company directors, even when they are entirely removed from day to day operations, in order to satisfy a need for quick blame and closure? I am hesitant to believe so.

Equally important, I find a great deficiency in the bill as it addresses private corporations while leaving Canada's largest and most impersonal institutions, that is to say, government departments and crown corporations, outside its reach. Let me offer an example.

Several years ago here in Ottawa an employee of the transit company, OC Transpo, walked into his workplace and opened fire at his colleagues. There were fatalities. The later investigation revealed that the abnormal behaviour of the person in question was reported on more than one occasion to staff supervisors but that they had failed to take action.

Surely that would be a textbook example of the kind of criminal culpability the bill seeks to create. However, under the proposed legislation, the fact that OC Transpo is publicly owned would exonerate its directors and managers and the politicians who oversee it. It seems incomprehensible to me that no one would be held criminally responsible, other than the shooter, for the simple reason that these events transpired in a public sector workplace rather than in the private sphere.

However I do think there is a need for such measures to be applied in a manner that creates liability for governmental and semi-governmental agencies so that they too can be prosecuted when they abuse their trust. This should certainly be so in cases that lead to needless deaths and, let me suggest, it should also be so in cases where the abuse of power leads to a loss of property or civil liberties.

One interesting example of how this was done can be drawn from the United States. Under a 1997 law, government agencies, such as the internal revenue service, now face severe financial penalties if they abuse their power in order to engage in malicious prosecution, when they conduct actions toward those who are in their care in bad faith, or when they otherwise violate their legal mandates. This law, which is known as the Hyde amendment, has been remarkably successful in reining in this notoriously abusive agency.

If such a law were to apply in Canada with regard to any gross abuses in the behaviour of governmental and semi-governmental agencies toward their employees, we might see some form of justice toward the victims of tragedies like the one that occurred at the OC Transpo sheds.

I wish to conclude by congratulating my colleague from Churchill. She is right to highlight the need for improved workplace safety. I say to my colleague, yes, the cause is just, but we must be careful not to create new injustices in our efforts to remedy existing ones.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 8th, 2001 / 5:30 p.m.
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NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to support Bill C-284 put forward by my colleague, the member for Churchill, an act to amend the Criminal Code of Canada concerning offences by corporations, directors and officers.

I also wish to acknowledge the great work done on this issue by my leader, the member for Halifax, and by the member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough.

This bill has been a long time coming before parliament and it has been known by many names: the corporate responsibility act; the workplace safety act; the corporate manslaughter act; and the corporate killing act. However, most people still call it by its original name, the Westray act.

People call this the Westray act in reference to the tragic Westray mine disaster in Stellarton, Nova Scotia. On that day in 1992, 26 miners died when a methane gas explosion tore through the Westray mine. Those 26 deaths, like so many deaths and injuries that occur in the workplace, could have been prevented were it not for the company management practices that deliberately and systematically refused to comply with health and safety regulations.

Mr. Justice Richard's inquest into the Westray mine disaster was very clear on this point: it was the wilful decision of the mine's manager to ignore and indeed encourage violations of safety regulations that led to the fatal gas explosion.

The miners tried to complain about the unsafe working conditions, but their complaints were ignored and they were threatened with dismissal unless they kept quiet.

I believe that it is time that we in this House finally complete our criminal law by making it a criminal offence for an employer or a manager to wilfully violate reasonable standards of conduct of safety or safety of workers in their care thus causing an employee's death.

It has always struck me as strange that in Canada people are allowed under the law to wilfully create the conditions that causes someone's death because of their status as a boss, director or manager. The current criminal code lets them escape responsibility for the safety of their employees. Why is that?

If we are negligent about the safety of our neighbour and cause their death we would be guilty of manslaughter. If we killed someone by driving drunk, the penalties are justifiably severe. If we cause death as a caregiver in a hospital we may be charged with murder. However, if a manager of a mine, who knows the mine is unsafe and keeps making decisions that keep it unsafe, sends employees into those unsafe conditions and 26 people die, no criminal liability exists in Canada. That is shocking.

Let us not be coy here. That is what is allowed under the law right now.

The case that is used most often when discussing this is the Westray explosion. However the Westray disaster is only the tip of the iceberg in Canada.

Every day Canadians are injured or killed on the job. Every day these accidents happen because the employer refuses to create a workplace that is safe. Every day Canadians are killed because the boss will not pay an extra buck to make sure that safety is in place. Every day our criminal code lets this happen without punishment. Our job as parliamentarians is to stop this fundamental injustice.

I would like to take a minute to pay tribute to an individual who spent most of his life fighting for safe workplaces for working men and women. I am referring to former Canada Labour Congress vice president, Dick Martin, who passed away last week.

Dick started fighting for the rights of workers as a steelworker working for Inco in northern Manitoba. He fought tirelessly for better health and safety. He saw how many of his co-workers at Inco were injured through company or supervisory neglect. He was angry about the fact that thousands of workers were being injured or killed on the job and our nation failed to mourn or act.

Dick was instrumental in having this place declare April 28 as the national day of mourning for Canadians who have died at work. I am so happy that Dick was able to see us mourn for these unnecessary deaths. However I am sad that Dick is not here today to see us pass this bill, a bill that would act to prevent unnecessary workplace death. Dick would be here lobbying like crazy to see this one through.

It is difficult for me to understand why some are opposing the bill. After all it does have a noble and practical objective. Some oppose it because they believe there are jurisdictional problems. To them I say, pass the bill at second reading and we will fix any jurisdictional problems at committee. That is why we have a clause by clause process to look at legislation and to tighten up the technical details.

I wonder if that is the real reason. I would hate to think that anyone in this place would believe that a corporation or a boss should be above the law simply because of status. I hope that all members would condemn that notion.

I have heard from some who oppose the legislation. They believe workers in Canada are protected from dangerous workplaces and predatory actions from bosses because they can always refuse to work. That argument is basically that it is the victim's fault. That argument is not only immoral and offensive, it is also inaccurate.

If we look at what happened in Stellarton, the Westray example clearly shows that the argument is inaccurate. Westray mine was part of the Foord coal seam, a geological structure eloquently called a spider web of coal by Westray survivor Shaun Comish in his book A Miner's Story . As Sean pointed out, the Foord coal seam had already claimed the lives of 244 miners before the explosion in 1992.

Everyone, including the managers, knew that this seam was unstable with constant cave-ins, heavy build-up of explosive coal dust and very prone to methane build-ups. It was a disaster waiting to happen. However, to cut costs and to maximize profits, the safety of the miners was willingly compromised by the company and 26 miners were added to the list of victims at the Foord coal seam.

Why did they still go down in the hole when they knew it was unsafe? It is simple. They had to eat. They had to support their families. They had to pay their bills. That is what working people of Canada have always done. Even when they know their lives are in danger, they have worked.

Before I became a member of parliament, I was a playwright and I had the honour of writing a play called The Glace Bay Miners' Museum based on a story by a writer named Sheldon Currie. It is the story of a young woman who sees her father and brother, then later on her husband and her other brother die in the Glace Bay mines.

It is a wonderful story but much of it is this argument that goes on between two brothers, one named Neil. Neil believed that real men worked above the ground and were farmers or fishermen or played bagpipes. Real men would not crawl in the earth like worms.

The other brother believed instead that real men worked under the ground. He joined the union and worked for better health and safety conditions. He fought for better hours and better pay and to hold management accountable and make it pay for part of the risk that they were taking underground.

At the end of the story both went down in the mine and both were killed at the exact same instant. It is a very sad story, but it is more than just a story.

Thousands of people in Canada do very dangerous work because of necessity. They also do it because they bring massive resources to the surface or from the waters.

Yesterday there was a huge storm in Atlantic Canada. Meteorologists called it a perfect storm. Again it is one of those situations where workers find themselves in the middle of very dangerous situations. In that case they are the masters of their own fortune in that it is their boats and their gear. That is not the case when working for a mine. People are very dependent on management for their safety.

Parliament has a role to play right now and right here to ensure we protect the health and safety of our workers by making sure managers do not escape criminal liability for their actions. Make no mistake, by allowing corporations not to be responsible for killing their workers, we let those 26 miners to die.

In memory of these men and their families, we have the opportunity to correct this situation. We can make corporate directors, managers and supervisors know that they have a legal responsibility not to ignore safety for profit.

We can honour their memory by passing the bill. In doing so we honour the memory of John Bates; Larry Bell; Bennie Benoit, a grandfather; Wayne Conway; Ferris Dewan; Adonis Dollimont; Robert Doyle, only 22 years old; Remi Drolet; Roy Feltmate; Charles Fraser; Myles “Sparkie” Gillis; John Halloran; Randolph House; T.J. Jahn; Laurence James; Eugene Johnson; Stephen Lilley; Michael MacKay; Angus MacNeil; Glenn Martin; Harry McCallum; Eric McIsaac; George Munroe; Danny Poplar; Romeo Short; and Peter Vickers.

Their lives were cut short. They were fathers, grandfathers, husbands, lovers, brothers and friends. They were workers who died in a mine that management knew was unsafe. They are victims and the law failed them. Let us fix the law in their memory.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

September 20th, 2001 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise this evening to speak to private member's Bill C-284 that was put forward by my colleague from Churchill. I commend her for her effort in bringing it forward.

I will read from the summary of the bill so that people clearly understand, although if they have been watching the debate it has been very instructive thus far and some good points have been brought forward. The summary of Bill C-284 clearly states:

The purpose of this enactment is to provide that, where a member of the staff of a corporation commits an offence by an act or omission on behalf of the corporation, the corporation, its directors and officers may, in certain circumstances also be guilty of the offence.

As has been stated and as all speakers have pointed out, the legislation came about because of the horrific Westray mine accident of May 9, 1992 in Plymouth, Nova Scotia, which killed 26 men. As the hon. parliamentary secretary pointed out, May 9, 1992 was almost a decade ago. Yet we are still here debating what ultimately to do about it.

The parliamentary secretary talked about difficulties in proposing this type of legislation in that one must prove intent on the part of the corporation and/or its directors. I would respond that in some cases it does not matter whether the intent is there; the bottom line is that the people are still dead.

The reality of criminal law is that in cases of first degree murder one needs to prove there was intent to commit murder but for manslaughter one does not. People charged with manslaughter can be held accountable even if they did not clearly intend to murder an individual. They should have assumed that because of their actions the individual stood a good chance of perishing.

How can these accidents happen in this day and age? That question is certainly on the minds of men and women in workplaces across our nation. It seems incomprehensible that these types of things can happen in this day and age. We have provincial workers' compensation boards across the nation to protect our workers.

Sadly the reality is that all too often workers are intimidated into doing things they know are unsafe. They feel intimidated and at risk of losing their jobs, especially in times of economic slowdown. They cannot afford the loss of income and end up doing things in the workplace they inherently know are not smart. Unfortunately I speak in particular of our youth.

I am a father of three. My children's ages are 22, 20 and 18. I am sure many members in the House have children in the workplace or in some cases grandchildren. All too often it is the young people of Canada who do not clearly understand their rights as workers and can be coerced or intimidated into doing something unsafe. They do so in the name of expediency and the bottom line so that a corporation can chase the almighty dollar.

This is especially important in a country such as Canada where a large part of our economy is dependent upon natural resource extraction, be it from mines, the oil patch, logging or fishing. I should not say these industries have a record of being unsafe, but many are dangerous to be involved in. Many of them involve heavy equipment. Miners must work underground. Forestry workers have large trees falling around them. Statistics clearly show these are dangerous occupations and we must ensure corporations conduct these operations in the safest way possible.

I have listened to the arguments and read the bill. There are concerns that the legislation as written is perhaps too punitive. However, with all due respect, a decade is long enough for the families of the victims of the Westray disaster to have waited to see the issue go before a committee.

In the last parliament, as has been mentioned tonight, my colleague from Pictou--Antigonish-Guysborough was successful in getting a private member's motion dealing with this issue passed and sent to the justice committee. However one of the tragedies, as it were, of our parliamentary system and how it handles private members' legislation is that even when it clears the first hurdle and enough government backbenchers break party ranks to support it and send it to the appropriate committee, all too often an election ends up being called and the legislation dies.

That is what happened with my colleague's bill, which necessitated my other colleague from Churchill bringing it forward and starting the process all over again. Here we are still dealing with it a decade later.

In conclusion, I support the initiative. As others have said, there are problems with the way it is drafted but I am sure it is nothing the justice committee could not deal with. It could hear the appropriate witnesses and make amendments, but let us get on with it.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

September 20th, 2001 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Vancouver Quadra B.C.

Liberal

Stephen Owen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I would like to express my gratitude to all hon. members for their very thoughtful and important comments on this proposed bill.

Bill C-284 is a proposed response to the Westray mine tragedy. At this time, given the tragedy of last week, it is immensely important that we think back almost 10 years to the families of the victims of that terrible tragedy. It makes it even more appropriate that we consider this carefully and with deep humanity at this time.

Although this is not a new issue for the House, it is an important one and it is one that deserves very wide consideration. The issues that have been raised demonstrate both the importance and the wide number of considerations.

As we have heard, Westray was an underground coal mine in Nova Scotia owned by Curragh Resources, a company based in Ontario. An explosion in the mine killed 26 miners. It was a great tragedy on May 9, 1992. Our hearts, our thoughts and our prayers go out to the families of those victims.

The Nova Scotia government established an inquiry into the causes of the disaster. However, hearings were delayed by almost three full years while the principals of Curragh Resources went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada in an effort to have the inquiry quashed.

When the inquiry was finally able to start it was thorough. There were 76 days of hearings held over more than one year. Justice Richard heard testimony of ongoing safety violations and a series of unacceptable practices. His report was entitled “The Westray Story: A Predictable Path to Disaster”. It made 85 findings of fact about all aspects of the operation of the mine, including the inspections carried out by the Nova Scotia government. There was plenty of blame to go around. More positively, the report contained 74 recommendations, and we have heard some of them tonight.

Previous debates in the House, as well as motions and proposed bills, this one and a previous one, have demonstrated the wide concern in the House that those who are responsible for criminal acts, either natural or corporate, should be held accountable for the consequences of those criminal acts. That appears to be, and from all that I have heard tonight, the widely held view in the House.

While the Richard inquiry was proceeding, an attempt was made to use the criminal law to hold the principals of Curragh responsible. Unfortunately, highly unusual circumstances, including a failure to make full disclosure and the trial judge seeking to have the crown prosecutor replaced, led first to a stay of the charges and then, after an appeal all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, there was an order for a new trial. In 1998 the Nova Scotia prosecution service decided it would not go to a new trial and dropped all charges.

In those circumstances, not surprisingly, one of the recommendations made by Mr. Justice Richard was for the Government of Canada to study the accountability of corporate executives and directors for the wrongful or negligent acts of the corporation and to introduce such amendments to the legislation as were necessary. Mr. Justice Richard did not make a specific recommendation as to the changes that should be made in federal law.

There is currently a civil action in the Nova Scotia courts by the families of the Westray miners seeking damages against the government of Nova Scotia and against the Government of Canada.

On the motion by the government of Nova Scotia, the action against the province was struck out. That decision has been appealed. Accordingly, almost 10 years after the disaster, the matter is still before the courts and the families of the victims have not seen justice done in either the criminal or civil courts.

All of us in the House sympathize with the victims and we wish to do whatever we can to prevent such a tragedy from recurring. I will address the role of the criminal law in the process and particularly how the criminal law is applied when corporations are involved in wrongdoing.

Of course the criminal law only comes into play after the fact. Its effect on workplace safety is through deterring individuals from breaking the law by the threat of punishment.

The overwhelming majority of Canadian directors and company officials seek to maintain safe working conditions. The criminal law must focus on those who are reckless with the lives and safety of the employees but it must proceed with caution with regard to the possibility of casting its net so wide that persons who may have been negligent but who had no criminal intent are subject to criminal sanctions.

Most of the complexity and difficulty in devising an effective regime of criminal responsibility for corporations arises from the fact that the imposition of penalties under criminal law is based on a finding that there was mens rea, an intent to commit a crime.

When the courts are dealing with a person, whether accused of murder or shoplifting, they must determine not only if the accused committed the act but also what the intent was at the time. If the accused is found to have done the deed and to have had the necessary state of mind, the court then determines the appropriate sentence.

Corporations do not fit into the mould of criminal law as it has developed over the centuries. Corporations do not carry out a criminal act in the traditional sense. A corporation does not have a mind. A corporation cannot be imprisoned. For these reasons, as recently as 1909, Halsbury's Laws of England stated:

By the general principles of the criminal law, if a matter is made a criminal offence it is essential that there should be something in the nature of mens rea, and therefore, in ordinary cases, a corporation aggregate cannot be guilty of a criminal offence.

While the apparent immunity of corporations from the criminal law may appeal to logical purists, the courts and legislatures have recognized that the importance of corporations in modern life makes it essential that they be brought within the ambit of criminal law. The objective has been clear but the means of achieving it are not self-evident.

The Supreme Court of Canada stated in the leading case of Canadian Dredge & Dock Co. v The Queen, 1985:

The position of the corporation in criminal law has been under examination by courts and lawmakers for centuries. The questions which arise are manifold and complex. They are not likely to be answered in a permanent or universal sense in this appeal, or indeed by the courts acting alone.

The Commonwealth and the United States have taken much different approaches to the basis upon which to find a corporation guilty of a criminal offence.

In England criminal intent is found in the directing mind of a corporation, which is embodied in the board of directors or a high official who has such control over the corporation that “his action is the very action of the company itself”.

In the United States the law has generally made a corporation prima facie liable for the acts of all its employees acting within the scope of their employment as long as they had a guilty mind and intended by their crime to benefit the corporation. It is a different approach.

In practice, however, the difference between the two theories for attributing liability may not be so profound. American courts allow a corporation to exonerate itself by showing that it took reasonable steps to ensure its employees would not act in contravention of the law. American courts therefore examine the policies of senior officials and the practices of managers charged with implementing those policies

In Canadian Dredge and Dock Co. v. The Queen [1985], the Supreme Court of Canada applied the directing mind test of corporate responsibility but broadened the application of the test. In particular, the court held that a corporation can have more than one directing mind. As noted:

This must be particularly so in a country such as Canada where corporate operations are frequently geographically widespread. The transportation companies, for example, must of necessity operate by the delegation and sub-delegation of authority from the corporate centre; by the division and subdivision of the corporate brain; and by decentralizing by delegation the guiding forces in the corporate undertaking.

In a later case the Supreme Court of Canada specified that the directing mind is someone who has decision making power with respect to matters of corporate policy as opposed to broad discretion in implementing corporate policy.

This, then, is the somewhat confused state of the law today and as it existed when the explosion in the Westray mine took 26 lives. It is not at all clear that the law was not sufficient to bring charges successfully against the corporate owners of Westray.

The prosecutorial service of Nova Scotia had concluded there was sufficient evidence to go to trial. For reasons utterly unconnected with the law, the charges were eventually stayed under circumstances that led to an inquiry into the manner in which the case had been handled. Nor is it clear that the changes proposed by Bill C-284 would have changed the result of the criminal trial.

We in the House must ensure that we devise the best possible regime to foster safety for all workers. Most of that consists of ensuring workers have the right to safe working conditions and the right to refuse hazardous work. A proper system of inspections to ensure laws are obeyed and not circumvented is another vital component of ensuring safety.

The criminal law is the last step when previous measures have failed. We must ensure that any changes we make to the criminal law advance the cause of promoting safety. We must take the time to study the issue thoroughly and consult with all stakeholders. The government will do so.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

September 20th, 2001 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Madam Speaker, I hope more colleagues will be interested in this very important matter.

Before I get into the gist of my speech, I take this opportunity to tell men, women and children who lost loved ones in New York or Washington that our thoughts are with them, and that the thoughts and the prayers of people in my riding of Laurentides are with them.

To start with, we agree with the principle of the bill I said to my friend from Churchill it is time we brought major changes.

In the context of Bill C-284, it bears repeating because we need some background, we know that other members introduced bills that did not make it to third reading and were dropped from the order paper.

I hope that this one will make it, that we will be able to discuss it fully and to amend it as needed, and also that we will get unanimous support to bring about major changes.

As everyone knows, or will know, on May 9, 1992, an explosion at the Westray mine, in Nova Scotia, killed 26 miners.

Then, on May 15, Mr. Justice Peter Richard was appointed by the Nova Scotia government, under the Public Inquiry Act of Nova Scotia, to head a public inquiry into the circumstances of this tragedy.

In November 1997, Commissioner Richard released a 650 page report and this is no short story, which includes, among other things, findings on the criminal responsibility of Curragh Resources Inc., the company responsible for the operation of the Westray mine, and of its management. This very important report confirmed that the company was guilty, but it came out of this pretty well unscathed.

There is a problem with our legislation. I will talk about the Canada Labour Code, because I worked with it and I am sure the hon. member knows about this.

I had proposed major amendments to part II of the Canada Labour Code, which deals with health and safety in the workplace, to impose stiffer penalties on companies when negligence was involved, or when a company was charged. We had also proposed to increase fines and jail terms rather significantly. This was under clause 14 of Bill C-12, and I can provide a copy to the hon. member for Churchill so she can take a look at it.

We had put so much hope in all this, we had worked relentlessly to significantly improve the part on health and safety in the workplace. It had already been ten years since that part of the legislation had last been reviewed. We had proposed major amendments, including amendments to protect women in the workplace. None of our amendments were accepted. At the time, during the last parliament, the political will was not there. I hope the government will be more serious and positive regarding the bill introduced by the hon. member for Churchill.

A great deal of work was done and this should be pointed out, because it was not negligible, by the hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough. He tabled a motion that also died on the order paper when the House prorogued. His was a very important motion, which also sought to review the criminal code. It would have been reviewed by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and it sought to allow the amendment of a recommendation to ensure the protection of people and make sure that such a tragedy never happened again.

I believe the hon. member had almost managed to get unanimity, but we never knew the government's position, because consideration of the motion was never completed.

As I said earlier, we on this side are obviously in agreement with the bill's principle, but there is the whole issue of amendments we might wish to make—I do not know which yet, I will be talking with my colleague—because there are provinces, including Nova Scotia, for example, which at the time was not particularly well protected by provincial legislation for mine employees.

In some provinces, work is already being done. It is serious work. In Quebec, with the CSST, we protect our employees. It is not perfect, but we in Quebec already have a very good system, which is working very well. Care must be taken not to penalize people who are already doing their job well, not to penalize a government that already has plans and is doing an extraordinary job with its employees and its employers. We already have a tribunal that can hand down rulings against companies that are not doing their job well. We can also fine them.

We have all this in Quebec and I am a bit worried. Will this bill interfere in our jurisdiction? If so, we will have to make the necessary amendments. If not, so much the better.

I would like to point out, and this is not just to mention the fine work we are doing in Quebec, but when one does something well, one should say so, that lately the CSST has been running a wonderful prevention campaign on television. Of course, when we watch these images and ads,paid for by the government and the CSST, showing a woman falling and injuring herself, or a man who, through carelessness, seriously injures his arm, it makes for some hard viewing, but it is what happens.

As my colleague pointed out, there is a work accident every nine seconds. It is therefore essential that people be made aware, and work remains to be done. I know that we are doing that work now. So far, I have seen a few ads. I hope that this will continue in Quebec and that it will serve as an example to other levels of government, to other provinces, that they will use this form of prevention because it is wonderful, and that we can use it to bring the message home to the public and to businesses. Businesses have responsibilities and they must not shirk them.

We obviously need to tighten certain rules. As I was saying earlier, we have tried and I have personally tried, through Bill C-12 dealing with health and safety, to include preventive withdrawal for pregnant or nursing women. This is an issue that I feel very strongly about. I introduced a bill on the subject, but it did not go all the way. I have another one coming and I hope the government will take it into account.

Quebec has been protecting pregnant or nursing women for a very long time. They have access to preventive withdrawal without being penalized financially, something that does not exist under the federal system. Women who cannot afford to live on employment insurance benefits that would cut their income in half will keep on working in conditions that may be hazardous to their unborn child or to the child they are nursing.

The federal government must change its mentality with regard to this issue. It is so sad to see, in the same building, two female employees, one working under federal jurisdiction and the other working under provincial jurisdiction, who do not have the same rights. We need to modernize our federal legislation and we must be able to make amendments that are not costly. We are not talking about huge costs here. I will even be able to give specific figures when we study the bill.

My heart goes out to all those who lost a loved one among these 26 miners who had to work in difficult conditions. Need I remind members that working in a mine is working in the dark. Their quality of life is just as bad as the quality of the air they breathe. My heart goes out to those families.

I hope that, in the end, those responsible for this tragedy will be made to pay. As legislators, we will bring in legislation to ensure that these people, as well as their families, are protected.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

September 20th, 2001 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

moved that Bill C-284, an act to amend the Criminal Code (offences by corporations, directors and officers), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I rise today to begin the debate on Bill C-284, an act to amend the Criminal Code of Canada concerning offences by corporations, directors and officers.

The bill has been a long time coming before parliament and has been known by many names: the corporate responsibility act; the workplace safety act; the corporate manslaughter act; and the corporate killing act. However most people still call it by its original name, the Westray act.

People call it the Westray act in reference to the tragic Westray mine disaster in Stellarton, Nova Scotia on May 9, 1992. On that day 26 miners died when a methane gas explosion tore through the Westray mine. Those 26 deaths, like so many deaths and injuries that occur in the workplace, could have been prevented were it not for the company management practices that deliberately and systematically refused to comply with health and safety regulations.

Mr. Justice Richard's inquest into the Westray mine disaster was very clear on this point. It was the wilful decision of the mine managers to ignore and indeed encourage violations of safety regulations that led to the fatal gas explosion. The miners themselves tried to complain about the unsafe working conditions but their complaints were ignored and they were threatened with dismissal unless they kept quiet.

The Westray case exposed a major hole in our criminal law system which the bill addresses. Right now the law simply does not allow our justice system to hold company managers criminally accountable when they show the kind of heinous disregard for human life shown by the Westray mine managers. The bill amends the Criminal Code of Canada and creates new provisions to hold corporations, their directors and managers accountable in such cases.

The Westray tragedy has been called the worst case of corporate mass murder in Canadian history. It has even been the subject of an acclaimed National Film Board documentary which was screened last week at the Toronto International Film Festival. Yet despite all this, not a single criminal charge could be laid against the managers who were responsible for what happened. Local crown attorneys tried to lay charges but concluded that they could not get a conviction under existing laws.

In the report from his inquest, Mr. Justice Richard wrote that this was a weakness in our system that should not be allowed to exist. He went on to recommend that:

The Government of Canada, through the Department of Justice, should institute a study of the accountability of corporate executives and directors for the wrongful or negligent acts of the corporation and should introduce in the Parliament of Canada such amendments to legislation as are necessary to ensure that corporate executives and directors are held properly accountable for workplace safety.

Unfortunately the government so far has not responded to this recommendation. I am sure that this lack of response is what prompted the hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough to introduce Motion No. 79 in the last parliament. His motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the Criminal Code or other appropriate federal statutes should be amended, after consideration by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, in accordance with recommendation 73 of the province of Nova Scotia's public inquiry into the Westray disaster, specifically with the goal of ensuring that corporate executives and directors are held properly accountable for workplace safety.

I commend the hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough whose constituency includes the town of Stellarton, home of the Westray mine, for his tremendous work on the motion in the last parliament. Thanks in large part to his efforts, it was made votable and passed in the House on March 21, 2000.

While Motion No. 79 was working its way through parliament, the hon. member for Halifax, who is also the leader of the New Democratic Party, was also working very hard on the issue. She introduced private members' Bill C-259 to amend the criminal code as recommended by Mr. Justice Richard. I am proud that I had the honour of seconding that bill. When Motion No. 79 made its way to the justice committee after being passed by the House, the justice committee considered both the motion and Bill C-259 and issued a unanimous report which recommended the following:

That the Minister of Justice and the Department of Justice bring forward proposed legislation in accordance with Motion 79, agreed to by the House on March 21, 2000 and the principles underlined in Bill C-259 for consideration by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

The government had 60 days to respond. Unfortunately before this time limit had elapsed the Prime Minister dissolved parliament for the general election and both the hon. member for Halifax's bill and the hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough's motion died on the order paper without resolution. What did not die, however, was the urgency of the issue and the determination of those of us who believe passionately in workplace safety to close this huge loophole in the criminal code. That is why, following the election, the hon. member for Halifax resubmitted her bill and I introduced my own version of it as well, with higher fines.

This issue is very important to me personally and to my constituents in the Churchill riding where many people are employed in heavy resource industries like mining and forestry, where health and safety is literally a matter of life and death.

Injury and death on the job is an ongoing problem in Canada. The statistics are shocking. On an average work day three Canadians are killed on the job.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

February 26th, 2001 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-284, an act to amend the Criminal Code (offences by corporations, directors and officers).

Mr. Speaker, prior to the last election and just prior to the summer break, the House and all parliamentarians supported the move for the government to introduce legislation to address the issue of corporate manslaughter.

Very few Canadians are not aware of the situation that took place in Westray a number of years ago in which 26 miners were killed when there was no question whatsoever that it was through the negligence and disregard of their managers, corporation and workplace inspectors as well as governments in general to ensure that there was a safe workplace. Safe practices were not followed.

Justice Richard at that time said that the government needed to bring forth legislation to hold those corporations accountable for criminal negligence. He also said that the corporations and corporation management should be charged and held accountable in a criminal court of law.

The bill would do what the government has neglected to do. The Liberals made a promise before the election and assured us that this would happen, but the minister has given no indication that she intends to address this issue now. Therefore, this private member's bill will once again give parliamentarians the option of voting on the bill.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)