Two forklift operators were recently found guilty under the Occupational Health and Safety Act for using mobile phones while sitting on their forklifts. The court held that "operating or using" a forklift includes sitting on a forklift even when it is stopped and turned off, as other workers and forklifts may be nearby and put at risk by the operator's distraction and inattention to their surroundings while using a mobile phone. Further, the employer had clearly prohibited the use of mobile phones in the warehouse.
The Alberta Court of Appeal recently reviewed the provisions of the Workers' Compensation Act that enable the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) to be subrogated to the right of a claim against a party not covered by the act when the WCB has paid out benefits to a party that is covered by the act. The court confirmed that pursuant to the act, defendants that are not protected from suit should not be held liable for the portion of loss caused by an employer or worker that is protected from suit.
A recent case has affirmed the test for jurisdiction simpliciter in internet defamation cases. However, it has also muddied the waters regarding the circumstances in which a court might exercise its discretion to stay a proceeding in Canada in favour of trial in another jurisdiction. The Supreme Court's decision shows that the judiciary remains divided on how best to adapt existing private international law principles to the modern reality of borderless communications.
A recent Supreme Court of Canada decision concerning a religious association has confirmed that judicial review is not available to review decisions made by private entities that are not exercising statutory authority. While the courts may still review decisions of private entities where causes of action are based on a contract or other underlying legal right, the Supreme Court of Canada has closed the door on judicial review for all private entities by holding that it is available solely for exercises of statutory authority.
Judicial review is a public law remedy – but does this preclude its availability for decisions made by private entities (eg, voluntary associations and political parties)? Divergent lines of judicial authority have led to inconsistent answers to this question in Ontario. However, a recent Ontario Divisional Court decision has confirmed that the answer to this question is yes.
An employer that terminated an employee alleging just cause has been ordered to pay damages for wrongful dismissal, including an aggravated damages award of C$75,000. The court was satisfied that the employer's actions amounted to a breach of the obligation of good faith and fair dealing, and supported an award of aggravated damages. The employer's false reasons for dismissal and inadequate and unfair investigation had resulted in the plaintiff failing to receive procedural fairness.
The Supreme Court of Canada recently determined that New Brunswick's restrictions on the importation of beer are constitutional and held that laws which create an incidental restriction on trade – but otherwise form a rational connection to a broader regulatory regime that is not targeted at restricting trade – will not contravene the Constitution Act 1867. The decision is controversial, as it sets a low threshold for a province to justify a law that, on its face, clearly restrains trade across provincial boundaries.
The Territorial Court of the Northwest Territories recently considered and accepted a joint submission from the crown and defence, sentencing an employer to a C$100,000 fine. The court considered the significance of a joint submission, noting that it is usually the result of a negotiation process between lawyers. This process is important to the administration of justice; thus, the courts should defer to a joint submission within the bounds established by the Supreme Court of Canada in an earlier case.
An Ontario court recently fined a defunct mining company that went out of business in 2016 C$1.3 million under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act after it found the company guilty on six charges following the deaths of two workers. This is one of the largest Occupational Health and Safety Act fines in Ontario history. However, the company did not defend the Ministry of Labour prosecution.
The court in a recent wrongful dismissal case dismissed the plaintiff's allegation that he had been dismissed after making suggestions about improvements to the employer's safety systems. The court found that the plaintiff's theories were unsupported by the evidence and insufficient to justify an award of aggravated or punitive damages. It therefore held that the employer's conduct was not malicious and high handed so as to warrant additional damages and dismissed that aspect of the plaintiff's claim.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal has upheld the firing of a unionised millwright who was caught with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket before boarding a helicopter that would transport him to an offshore platform. The labour arbitrator found that the employee likely knew that he possessed the marijuana, but had forgotten about it and not checked his pockets carefully. Although the Newfoundland Supreme Court set the arbitrator's decision aside, the appeals court restored it.
The Ontario Court of Appeal recently upheld the criminal negligence conviction and jail term imposed on a project manager for Metron Construction. The charges arose from an incident in which four workers fell to their death and a fifth sustained permanent injuries after a swing stage collapsed. This case has sent a message to employers and supervisors that criminal negligence charges – in addition to Occupational Health and Safety Act charges – are a real possibility after serious workplace accidents.
An Ontario court has upheld a combined fine of more than C$5.3 million, plus a 25% victim fine surcharge, against Sunshine Propane Energy Group, a related company and two corporate directors following explosions at a propane facility in 2008, which resulted in the death of one worker. The court held that the explosions were a foreseeable event given that an untrained employee had been left in charge and that his actions after the explosions showed his lack of training.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal recently held that a trial judge was wrong to find a city guilty of Occupational Health and Safety Act charges solely because an accident had occurred in which a worker died. It held that the trial court should have gone further and analysed each charge separately. The decision is a welcome reminder that prosecutors cannot simply rely on the fact that an accident took place to obtain a conviction.
The Ontario Court of Appeal recently held that the Ministry of Labour can prosecute employers under the general duty clause of the Occupational Health and Safety Act where the charges impose greater obligations than those set out in the regulations under that act. Ministry of Labour inspectors will likely consider using this decision to issue compliance orders or charges under the general duty clause even where regulations deal with the specific safety issue at hand, but do not apply in the particular case.
An Alberta court recently considered the 'accident as prima facie breach' principle in the context of an application for particulars. The principle provides that, in some cases, proof that an employee was injured in an accident while performing his or her employment duties proves the actus reus (ie, guilty act) for an occupational health and safety general duty charge. The burden then shifts to the defendant to establish a due diligence defence.
The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal recently ruled that a release signed by a terminated employee barred her complaint against her employer under occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation. The court stated that after the occurrence of a so-called 'triggering event', which provides a worker with the right to file a complaint under the legislation, that right becomes personal to the worker. Where a worker has given a release in respect of a personal right, the validity of the release must be reviewed.
The Court of Appeal for Ontario recently clarified the test for assuming jurisdiction over absent foreign claimants in Ontario class actions with international elements, opening the door to the potential certification of class proceedings on behalf of global classes. While the jurisdictional hurdle for absent foreign claimants appears to have been lowered as a result of the decision, it remains to be seen how the lower courts will interpret and apply the appeal court's test.
An Ontario court recently dismissed an Occupational Health and Safety Act charge in a fatality case, finding that the employer had established due diligence. The court decided that the worker had deviated from the standard practice that he and other workers had followed on previous occasions. While no training courses were available for the task in question, the employer was entitled to rely on the experience of the worker.
In a recent Ontario appeal decision, the court upheld a C$270,000 fine, despite the Ministry of Labour prosecutor and defence counsel agreeing that a C$180,000 fine would be appropriate. The case illustrates that, particularly in cases of serious injury to a worker which offends the court, there is always a risk that the court will impose a fine that is greater than the amount that the Ministry of Labour prosecutor wanted.