Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party to take part in the debate on this very important bill, known as the Westray bill. Certainly, the Progressive Conservative Party wishes to see its quick passage.
The purpose of the bill is to amend the Criminal Code to establish rules for attributing organizations with criminal liability for the acts of their representatives. It would establish the legal duty of persons directing work to ensure the safety of workers. It sets out factors for courts to consider when sentencing organizations and provides conditions for court imposed probations.
Bill C-45 is billed as the government's long awaited response to the findings of a public inquiry into the Westray mining disaster.
On May 9, 1992, an explosion at the Westray site in Plymouth, Nova Scotia, killed 26 coal miners. As a result, the mine's parent company, Curragh Inc., and two on-site managers were charged with manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death. Despite evidence of lax safety standards and hazardous conditions in the mine, the case failed at trial sparking allegations of abuse of the court process and appeals to the Supreme Court.
The founder of Curragh Inc. refused to testify at the subsequent public inquiry calling it a farce, which prompted a public outcry over the lack of corporate accountability.
In 1997, inquiry commissioner Justice Peter Richard, issued the final report that accused mine managers and government inspectors of dereliction of their duties. A key recommendation from the report called upon the federal government to ensure that corporate executives and directors were held properly accountable for workplace safety.
Let me go over some of the highlights of the bill.
The criminal liability of corporations and other organizations will no longer depend on a senior member of the organization with policy making authority; that is, a directing mind of the organization having committed the offence.
Another highlight is the physical and mental elements of criminal offences attributable to corporations and other organizations will no longer need to be derived from the same individual. The class of personnel whose act or omissions can supply the physical elements of a crime attributable to a corporation or other organizations will be expanded to include all employees, agents and contractors.
Another highlight is that for negligence based crimes, the middle element of the offence, mens rea , will be attributable to corporations and other organizations through the aggregate fault of the organization's senior officials, which will include those members of management with operational as well as policy making authority.
For crimes of intent or recklessness, criminal intent will be attributable to a corporation or other organizations where a senior officer is a party to the offence or where a senior officer has knowledge of the commission of the offence by other members of the organization and fails to take all reasonable steps to prevent or stop the commission of the offence. Sentencing principles specifically designed for corporate organizational offenders will be adopted.
Another highlight is that special rules of criminal liability for corporate executives will be rejected.
The last highlight that I will provide is that an explicit legal duty will be established on the part of those with responsibility for directing the work of others, requiring such individuals to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm arising from such work.
It should be noted that none of the provisions in the bill are retroactive. The government claims that the bill should make it easier to convict companies and other officials of crime that injure workers or the public.
Although specifying that an organization may be held responsible for occupational safety matters is a step forward, the bill does not address what happens if a negligent organization ceases to exist.
For example, Curragh Inc. was bankrupt by the time the Westray prosecutions could have started, meaning that imposing a fine and preventative safety measures in that case would have been meaningless punishment.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said that the bill has the potential to end up as mere feel good legislation, meaning that it would have little practical impact. It says that it would rather see the federal government assist businesses to meet their existing health and safety obligations.
However, many groups have come out in favour of this legislation. Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, for example, have stated that it believes Bill C-45 will effectively ban smoking in all workplaces, as second-hand smoke is considered a health hazard, and the bill requires employers to take reasonable measures to protect employee safety.
Also nothing in the bill suggests that it will be easier for workers or members of the public to receive direct compensation from corporations for their wrongdoings. One possible way to address this would be to distribute fines collected from organizations found guilty of workplace safety violations to the individuals directly harmed by the offence.
The bill also does not deal completely with the responsibility and accountability of corporate directors for unsafe work environments. The definition of a “senior officer” specifically includes the director, chief executive officer and chief financial officer, but does not mention lower level corporate executives and officers.
In closing, despite the failings of the bill, the PC Party believes that it is better than no bill at all and we certainly encourage its quick passage through this House as well as the Senate.