li-300-sunrise-propane-cp59

The Sunrise Propane explosion on Aug. 10, 2008, left one worker dead and forced thousands to evacuate their homes. ((Angela Deluce/Canadian Press) )

The directors of Sunrise Propane have been found guilty of environmental and workplace safety violations following an explosion in 2008 in northwest Toronto that killed a worker and forced thousands from their homes.

The company and its directors, Shay Ben-Moshe and Valery Belahov, were convicted Thursday of nine of the 10 charges they faced, including two violations of Ontario’s Health and Safety Act and seven violations of the Environmental Protection Act.

The company was cleared of one count under Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act.  

Sunrise employee Parminder Saini died in the Aug. 10, 2008, explosion, and firefighter Bob Leek suffered a fatal heart attack while battling the massive fire that followed. The blast at the fuel depot at 62 Murray Rd. in the Keele Street and Wilson Avenue area created a massive fireball that could be seen across the city and forced the evacuation of 12,000 people from their Downsview neighbourhood homes.

In Thursday's decision, a judge found Sunrise guity of violations, including:

  • Releasing a contaminant.

  • Failing to clean up after an explosion.

  • Failing to protect and properly train a worker.

  • Contravening a number of provincial orders.

Company flagged for illegal tank-to tank transfers

An Ontario Fire Marshal’s report into the explosion found that an illegal tank-to-tank transfer was underway at the time of the explosion and that a propane leak resulted from a hose failure. The ignition source of the blast has not been identified.

The report noted that tank-to-tank and truck-to-truck transfers are both dangerous and illegal in Ontario. Sunrise had been warned about the practice two years prior to the explosion.

Sunrise lawyer Leo Adler said he and his clients are disappointed with Thursday's ruling. He argued that a faulty hose caused the leak and subsequent explosion, which he said was beyond the company's control.

Sunrise will be back in court for a sentencing date to be set on July 23. The company and its directors could face millions of dollars in fines at sentencing. 

The company's legal problems are far from over. A lawyer has signed up thouands of Downsview residents for a class-action lawsuit. They will be seeking millions in damages. 

With files from CBC Michelle Cheung, The Canadian Press