Closing arguments conclude in Cole Harbour garage death case

Ellie Hoyeck was charged with criminal negligence causing death after a minivan fire at his auto-repair business killed employee Peter Kempton. He is the first Nova Scotian to be prosecuted under the so-called Westray law.

Nova Scotia judge expected to deliver decision on Jan. 11

The owner of Your Mechanic Auto Corner, Elie Hoyeck, is shown in 2014. (CBC)

The Crown and defence have finished their closing arguments in the trial of the first Nova Scotian charged under the so-called Westray law. 

Ellie Hoyeck was charged with criminal negligence causing death after a September 2013 minivan fire at his Cole Harbour, N.S., auto-repair business killed employee Peter Kempton.

Hoyeck has pleaded not guilty and is being tried by judge alone in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax. 

Crown prosecutor Peter Craig said Monday that Hoyeck failed to take reasonable steps to reduce the dangerous situation at the garage and must be found guilty. 

The Westray Bill was introduced after the 1992 Westray mine disaster in Plymouth, N.S., that killed 26 miners. It is a Criminal Code amendment aimed at making it easier to hold employers accountable for deaths or injuries in the workplace.  

The court has heard that Kempton was using an acetylene torch to remove the gas tank from a derelict minivan when the vehicle caught fire at Your Mechanic Auto Corner. 

Craig argued that another worker at the garage, Joe Spence, even testified that Hoyeck told Kempton to use a torch to remove the van's gas tank.

This is the fire that claimed Peter Kempton's life. This photo was taken by Elie Hoyeck. Police seized it from his phone. (Court exhibit)

An expert witness also testified the garage was not a safe place to work, and had numerous trip hazards, fire hazards, electrical issues and other safety concerns. 

Hoyeck's lawyer, Trevor McGuigan, said the fact that the overall work conditions were unsafe isn't relevant because it's only the fire that matters.

McGuigan said the case boils down to whether or not Hoyeck told Kempton to use the acetylene torch and if he knew Kempton was using the torch, and the answer to both questions is no.

As for Spence's testimony, McGuigan argued that he never gave definitive answers on Kempton's decision to use the torch and it raises questions about Spence's credibility. 

McGuigan said Hoyeck asked Kempton, a licensed mechanic, to do a relatively simple task, so Hoyeck shouldn't be blamed for not directly supervising Kempton's work to remove the gas tank.

The Crown has failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, said McGuigan, and Hoyeck should be found not guilty.

The defence has not called any evidence in the case.

Justice James Chipman is expected to deliver his decision on Jan. 11.

Blair Rhodes was live blogging from court. 

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Blair Rhodes

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Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 35 years, the last 27 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety. He can be reached at blair.rhodes@cbc.ca