Catholic school board fined $275K after death of student

The Ottawa Catholic School Board has been fined $275,000 after an explosion in a school classroom last year killed a student.

Eric Leighton's parents say money won't bring their son back

The Ottawa Catholic School Board was fined $275,000 after last year's classroom explosion. 2:49

The Ottawa Catholic School Board has been fined $275,000 after an explosion in a school classroom last year killed a student.

Eric Leighton was a defenceman with the Almonte Thunder, a Junior B Hockey team. (Facebook)

The court also imposed a 25-per-cent victim surcharge on the fine, credited to a government fund to assist the victims of crime.

The maximum fine faced by the school board was $500,000. Ministry of Labour spokesman Matt Blajer called the $275,000 fine "significant."

On May 26 last year, 18-year-old Eric Leighton was making a barbecue out of a steel barrel, along with other students, at Mother Teresa High School.

While Leighton was cutting his barrel with a hand-grinder, the barrel exploded. Leighton died in hospital at about 8 p.m. that day after the explosion at 10:40 a.m.

memorial for Leighton marking the one-year anniversary of his death was held in May.

Family says money won't bring their son back

After the court proceedings wrapped up, Eric's father Patrick Leighton told CBC News by phone he was relieved the school board pleaded guilty, but that it doesn't make up for his son's death.

"No amount of money would really change anything," Patrick Leighton said. "The fact that the school board pleaded guilty on all charges makes everything go a little faster, a little smoother."

He said he and his wife Sheri remain troubled by the fact that they haven't heard anything from the teacher of the class, a man their son "sort of idolized."

"I understand that he might not be able to speak, or he might have trouble talking, he might be afraid of talking to us, but a simple letter of condolence — I'm sorry for your loss, anything — but we've got nothing. Nothing … The sorrow's turned to anger, you might say."

School board charged in January

In January, the school board was charged under the Occupational Health and Safety Act with failing to provide instruction or supervision, failing to take every reasonable precaution to protect the workplace and failing to properly acquaint a supervisor with hazards associated with the handling of equipment at the shop.

The school board pleaded guilty Thursday to the charges.

"A Ministry of Labour investigation found that the barrel the student was using had been washed out with a flammable cleaner," a media release issued Thursday said. "The barrel had been stored with its caps closed prior to the class project, allowing flammable cleaning vapours to accumulate inside the barrel. When the student was cutting the barrel, a spark from the grinder ignited the vapours, causing the explosion."

The investigation also found that the school board didn't have adequate review and assessment procedures in place.

Leighton's family has called for a coroner's inquest. On Thursday, Dr. Roger Skinner — a regional supervising coroner for Ontario east — said the coroner's office is still considering that request.

Shop teacher hasn't returned to work

In a phone interview Thursday, the school board's director of education said a long trial wouldn't have benefited anyone.

"I think that as a school board ultimately we're responsible for what happens in the school," Julian Hanlon said. "We've accepted that responsibility all along and this process will hopefully help bring some closure to the case, in particular for the Leighton family themselves."

Hanlon also said the teacher of the class hasn't yet returned to work.

"The teacher himself … (has had) difficulty dealing with the situation and has not returned to work yet."