Federal health and safety officers are recommending a string of charges against their own employer — the Canadian government — in connection with a boiler explosion that killed an engineer in Ottawa last year.

Documents obtained by CBC News show that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada recommended charges of violating the labour code against the Department of Public Works and Government Services Canada after an April investigation.


A hazmat team from the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal investigates the scene of an Ottawa boiler plant explosion that killed one man on Oct. 19, 2009. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC)

"There's hardly any examples of a federal government employer being charged with a health and safety violation," labour lawyer Paul Champ said.

"It's going to be a really big deal legally if they charge them."

The explosion occurred Oct 19, 2009, at the Cliff Central Heating and Cooling Plant at 1 Fleet St., the building that heated the Houses of Parliament. Shift engineer Peter Kennedy, 51, died after suffering second-degree burns to 60 per cent of his body. Another worker was seriously injured.

Investigators who visited the plant this spring say they found a series of basic safety violations, which are detailed in the series of directives ordering Public Works to fix the problem obtained by CBC.

The investigators point out that the plant had no proper emergency procedure; employees hadn't been shown standard operating manuals; and the company servicing the boilers wasn't certified to do the work.

The recommended charges carry maximum penalties of up to two years in jail or a $1 million fine.

Although an individual charged could face serious legal consequences, the charges against Public Works might create an unusual situation. A federal department can't be sentenced to jail, but a fine would be purely symbolic, since the money would go right back to the federal government.

Individuals involved, from employees of the contractor in question all the way up to government staff, could theoretically face charges. At the time, Conservative MP Christian Paradis was the minister of public works and government services, the department ultimately responsible for the plant.

The labour code charges must be laid before the end of Tuesday, the first anniversary of the explosion. Public Works Canada is expected to hold a stone-laying ceremony at the site of the explosion to mark the anniversary.

The plant was decommissioned after the blast. Its replacement could cost the taxpayer as much as $250 million. A temporary plant constructed in the interim cost $42 million.