The family of an Ottawa student killed last year in a shop class explosion say they are calling for an inquest into his death in the hope it leads to changes in how schools handle potentially unsafe work.

Patrick and Sheri Leighton said during a news conference at Queen's Park Thursday their son Eric might be alive today if the shop teacher in their son class had needed to get "a second set of eyes" before he could task students with making barbeques.

"You shouldn't be able to do an outside project and do it on a whim," said Patrick Leighton 

Barrel exploded during hot work

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Patrick Leighton said precautions needed to be taken at the school before his son had cut into an empty oil drum. (CBC)

On May 26, 2011, 18-year-old Eric Leighton was making a barbecue out of a steel barrel, along with other students, at Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School in Ottawa.

While the teen was cutting his barrel with a hand-grinder, the barrel exploded. He died in hospital later that day.

Eric Leighton's death does not fit the criteria for an automatic inquest, such as a death in custody or on the job. But coroner Dr. Roger Skinner said it could qualify for a discretionary inquest. The Leightons said he recently wrote them to say he is still considering the request.

The family's main wish, Sheri Leighton said, is to have a coroner recommend changes to the way schools assign extracurricular projects like the barbecue-building project that killed her son. She said she wants to see the principal and safety officer sign off on such projects before they proceed.

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Ottawa student Eric Leighton died in a shop class explosion in the spring of 2011, a month before he was to graduate high school (Facebook)

Eric's sister Kaitlyn, 17, attended Mother Teresa for a semester after the explosion and said it was difficult for her at the school because she had to pass the site of the shop class every day. 

She said Eric's death has taught her that young people need to step up and speak out if they feel they've been asked to do something unsafe.

School board fined

The Ontario Ministry of Labour fined the Ottawa Catholic School Board $275,000 after the board pleaded guilty to failing to:

  • Provide instruction or supervision.
  • Take every reasonable precaution to protect the workplace.
  • Acquaint a supervisor with hazards associated with the handling of equipment at the shop.

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 school is also prohibited from welding, cutting or other "hot work."

The teacher in the incident was also injured and has yet to return to work.

The family said the teacher has yet to contact them and the school board was also uncooperative.

They said an inquest might help them answer some questions that still linger.

"Were hoping answers that we need for our closure will be there," said Sheri Leighton.