An Ottawa-based company wasn't properly licensed when a boiler it was working on exploded in 2009 and killed a man, according to federal and provincial agencies involved in investigating the blast, but charges weren't laid due to a gap in jurisdiction.

The provincial inspector, Technical Standards and Safety Authority, told CBC News it could not lay charges against R&R Automation because the boiler sits on federal property.

The boiler is run by Public Works and Government Services Canada.

The inspector said it had no jurisdiction to lay charges, an issue that has not been addressed by the courts.

R&R Automation, run by former employees of Public Works, won a tender from the department to perform upgrades and maintenance on boilers just months before the explosion.

But the company did not have the proper licensing and registration to do the work, according to three different agencies.

However, it has since acquired the proper documentation.

Public Works pleads guilty

On Oct. 19, 2009, one of six boilers exploded at the Cliff Central Heating and Cooling Plant, which sits along the shore of the Ottawa River near the Supreme Court of Canada and Parliament Hill.

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Public Works plumber Rino DeRosa (Julie Ireton/CBC)

Public Works complaints

  • In 2004, Rino DeRosa complained about unlicensed plumbers, code violations, work he corrected — costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Investigation launched by managers, according to Access to Information documents obtained by CBC News.
  • Memos showed managers found many of DeRosa's complaints well founded but "not taken seriously" (not including Cliff plant).

At the time of the explosion, the facility was undergoing maintenance and a boiler shut off unexpectedly.

Peter Kennedy, 51, was trying to reignite the boiler when the explosion happened and a steam tank burst. Kennedy suffered severe burns to 60 per cent of his body and he died in hospital early the next morning.

Three other workers were injured.

Labour Canada laid eight charges against Public Works and Government Services Canada one year after the explosion, and the department pleaded guilty to three of the charges in November 2012:

  • Failed to provide necessary health and safety training for the operation of a boiler.
  • Failed to adequately train supervisors and managers in health and safety issues.
  • Failed to develop a program for the prevention of workplace hazards.

Public Works could be fined as much as $100,000 per charge and it could also be put on probation.

That should be determined during sentencing hearings on July 3 and 4 in Ottawa.

Jurisdiction issue could be solved in sentencing

A health and safety inspector with Labour Canada who investigated the explosion agreed there are large jurisdictional gaps between provincial and federal oversight of boilers.

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Bruce McKeigan (CBC)

Individuals could be charged, but unlikely

  • No statute of limitations on criminal charges.
  • Under Canada’s Westray law, individuals could face criminal prosecution in workplace fatalities, according to health and safety law expert Katherine Lippel.
  • "It’s hard to say whether (an employee or first-line supervisor is) the scapegoat or they actually were responsible," said Bruce McKeigan.

Bruce McKeigan said Ontario's inspector might have been able to lay down punishment but the issue is murky.

"I'm still not convinced the provincial TSSA doesn't have jurisdiction over any boiler in the Province of Ontario," he said.

"That was never really made clear and (it's) one of those things that was never really addressed. It might be now that the sentencing is going to take place."

A consultant hired by Public Works will present a court-ordered report at sentencing that looked into safety practices at some government-operated boilers in Ottawa, including the Cliff plant.

Public Works said it could not comment on the boiler explosion because there are ongoing legal proceedings.

The department could confirm the Cliff plant continues to operate, heating and cooling about 50 government buildings in the National Capital Region.