Mr. Speaker, the passage of Bill C-45 represents the final step in the House in making significant reforms to the criminal law as it applies to all organizations. The bill has its origins in the terrible tragedy of the Westray mine explosion. All parties in the House cooperated in ensuring that the bill received high priority.
As members know, the bill when passed will significantly modernize Canadian law by expanding the circumstances in which an organization can be held criminally responsible for the actions taken in its name by its representatives.
To accomplish this it will introduce definitions of “organization”, “senior officer” and “representative” that in combination expand the current directing mind test of liability to include persons who manage important aspects of the organization's business. It will codify rules for attributing criminal liability to organizations that reflect the modern, complex decision making structures of organizations. It will set out factors for a court to consider when sentencing an organization. It will provide optional conditions of probation that a court can impose on an organization.
Well run organizations that take seriously their responsibilities as corporate citizens have little to fear from these changes. They would of course be well advised to review their practices and procedures and how much discretion they give to managers. However, the organization will only be held liable when there has been fault on the part of a senior officer. In offences based on negligence, the senior officer will have to have shown a marked departure from the standard of care that could reasonably be expected.
Where the offence is based on fault other than negligence, for example, knowledge or intent, the organization will only be liable if a senior officer who intends to benefit the organization either is a party to the offence personally, or directs the commission of the offence or turns a blind eye to the criminal activity of others.
These new rules are balanced and fair.
With respect to safety, the bill proposes not to separate out corporations and other organizations, but rather to emphasize the importance of ensuring the safety of workers and the public by introducing into the Criminal Code new section 217.1 making it a legal duty for everyone who directs the work or other persons, or who has the authority to do so, to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person or any other person.
Officials of the Department of Justice told the standing committee that in an organization with a complex structure, this new duty would apply not only to the organization itself, but also to individuals who may be personally liable in their own capacity, such as senior officers, low level managers, shop foremen, indeed anyone in the corporation who has the authority to direct how work is to be done.
Ultimately, the chief executive officer and the board of directors are responsible for how work is carried out. Clearly, they are not involved in the day to day decisions on the shop floor, but if they act with total disregard of their obligations with respect to work or worker safety and put pressure on the lower level managers to sacrifice safety to production, they could be personally liable.
I believe that Bill C-45 is already having an effect. Worksite News in August ran an editorial under the title “Bill C-45: What You Need To Know To Protect Your Assets Against The New Criminal Liability For Workplace Safety”. In that editorial the author wrote:
Corporate Canada would be well advised to assess their current OHS programs, training budgets and real commitment to workplace health and safety. An effective program with demonstrated clear communication throughout the organization is not only the way to ensure compliance with your legal obligations, but more importantly it helps to ensure the health and safety of your employees.
I understand that officials of the Department of Justice have met with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and with the occupational health and safety committee of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters to explain the potential impact of Bill C-45. They have also participated in a panel on Bill C-45 and the implications of proposed amendments to the Criminal Code as part of the Health and Safety Law Conference 2003 held in Toronto. All members should be encouraged by these signs that corporations and other organizations are considering their policies in the light of this new duty.
I believe that all parties in the House have approached this bill, the previous debate on Bill C-284 and the hearings of the standing committee last year in a non-partisan way, seeking to improve the operation of the law in this important area. I believe that all parties can take pride in their contribution to developing this bill and that the House can unanimously pass this bill and send it to the other place where we hope it will receive the same expeditious, non-partisan consideration.