Nova Scotia

N.S. man awaits sentence on workplace safety charges after mechanic's death

A judge is now deliberating the sentence for a former auto repair shop owner who has pleaded guilty to workplace safety charges following the death of a mechanic six years ago in Dartmouth, N.S.

Crown proposes Elie Hoyeck should pay $70K fine, defence recommends $6K

Elie Hoyeck, show in a file photo from earlier this year, pleaded guilty to three offences under the Nova Scotia Occupational Health and Safety Act in September. (CBC)

A provincial court judge is now deliberating the sentence for Elie Hoyeck, the former auto repair shop owner who has pleaded guilty to workplace safety charges following the death of a mechanic six years ago in Dartmouth, N.S.

The Crown and defence had very different takes Tuesday on an appropriate sentence for the three violations of Nova Scotia's Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Hoyeck, 46, pleaded guilty in September and has admitted to failing to ensure the safety of his workers, operating an uncertified car lift with its safety mechanisms disabled and failing to have an emergency response plan in place for working with hazardous materials like acetylene and oxygen.

Hoyeck was investigated following the death of mechanic Peter Kempton in September 2013. Kempton suffered fatal burns while attempting to use an acetylene torch to remove a gas tank from a derelict minivan at Your Auto Mechanic Corner, a repair shop owned by Hoyeck that has since closed.

Crown prosecutor Alex Keaveny suggested a $60,000 to $70,000 fine with some of it going to a fund to educate people about workplace safety. He suggested another portion be given to Threads of Life, an organization that supports families of people who have suffered workplace fatalities or injuries. 

"It's meant to be difficult to pay. It's meant to be a real punishment. If it's easy to pay off, it wouldn't be much of a deterrent," he said. 

An image of the burnt minivan on a trailer was part of the Agreed Facts for Sentencing submitted in Halifax provincial court Tuesday. (Nova Scotia Courts)

During his submissions to the judge, Keaveny presented photos of Hoyeck's shop and described the congested yard and the van on the back of the trailer while there was a lift nearby as "madness." 

"He was directly a party to this madness. He had his employees working in the craziest and most dangerous way possible, and for no reason," Keaveny said.

The prosecutor said Kempton did play a role in his death by making poor choices while working under the van and "paid the dearest price possible" but he argued that didn't diminish Hoyeck's role.   

"Mr Hoyeck knew this is not how we work on cars safely, he just chose to do it this way," said Keaveny. "He operated his garage … with no regard for safety regulations and no regard for the safety of his employees."

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

But defence lawyer Trevor McGuigan disputed that the Crown has proved his client contributed to Kempton's death. 

"The court would have to draw too large of a leap there to make that finding, that I think would be required beyond a reasonable doubt," he said.

In January 2019, Hoyeck was acquitted of criminal negligence causing death in a prosecution under the so-called Westray Law, a Criminal Code amendment meant to make it easier to hold employers accountable for deaths or injuries in the workplace. 

The defence also objected to the Crown's characterization of his client as someone with a habit of cutting corners. McGuigan said there's no evidence that vehicles had previously been worked on in the manner that Kempton was doing when he was injured on Sept 20, 2013. 

McGuigan said his client, who is married and has four children, now runs a new business but no longer has any employees and earned a little less than $30,000 in 2018. 

"There has been significant media attention with respect to the charges…. That has, he'd advised me, has an adverse effect on him and his business," he said. 

He asked the judge to consider a fine of $6,000 — $2,000 for each offence — emphasizing this was his client's first offence of this kind. 

Hoyeck briefly addressed the court.

"I'm sorry about Peter. I also lost a friend that was beside me for 15 years on a daily basis," he said. "I hate to remention it again but that trailer and the truck, when I brought it and parked it there, I didn't tell him to work on it there." 

Peter Kempton was a licensed mechanic at Your Mechanic Auto Corner in Dartmouth when he died in September 2013, a day after suffering severe burns to much of his body. (CBC)

During Tuesday's hearing, Kempton's two daughters shared victim impact statements that described the effects of losing their father.

Carinna Ladouceur told the court about her dad taking her and her sister hunting, fishing and hiking as children. But her favourite memory of her father was arriving home to find him waiting on her step, excited to meet her son for the first time. 

"I'll never forget the smile on his face that day as he held his grandson and talked to him about all the things he was going to teach him, things he'll never get to teach him now," Ladouceur said. 

Her young daughter never got to meet her grandfather and her son doesn't remember him. 

"As much as losing my father broke my heart that day, it continues to break knowing that my children are losing out on all the experiences I had as a child with my father," she said. 

Shannon Kempton, left, and Carinna Ladouceur pictured outside Halifax provincial court in September 2019. They were in the courtroom again Tuesday afternoon giving victim impact statements. (Jack Julian/CBC)

Shannon Kempton said she now suffers from anxiety that can be overwhelming at times, which cost her a job she loved. The sound of a siren elicits worries that something has happened to someone she cares about.

She told the court she has frequent nightmares about being in the ICU and having to decide to let her dad go. 

"When I lost my dad I lost a piece of myself that I will never get back," she said. 

Speaking outside the courthouse after the hearing, Kempton said the proposed fines don't bring her any comfort. 

"As much as $70,000 seems significant, to me it doesn't seem significant for the price of my father's life," she said. "Six thousand dollars isn't going to deter anyone from doing anything wrong, occupational health and safety-wise."

Judge Elizabeth Buckle is expected to deliver the sentence March 27.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC in Halifax. Over the past 13 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. Please send tips and feedback to elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

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