Ottawa·CBC Investigates

Questions prompt coroner's inquest into 1996 construction death

A CBC news investigation into the March 2016 construction site death of Olivier Bruneau has prompted the regional coroner to examine the death of Jesus Revilla, who died in 1996 while working for the same company, under the same supervisor.

Jesus Revilla died while working for same company, supervisor involved in 2016 death of Olivier Bruneau

Concrete finisher Jesus Revilla was working on a scaffold inside a silo in December 1996 when he fell 13 metres to his death. (Radio-Canada)

A Radio-Canada/CBC News investigation into the death of construction worker Olivier Bruneau has resulted in a coroner's inquest into a previous death, under the same employer, more than 20 years ago.

Bruneau, 24, died in March 2016 when he was crushed by a slab of falling ice at a construction site in Ottawa's Little Italy neighbourhood. Paramedics who responded to the call estimated the ice weighed up to 45 kilograms.

In March 2017 the Ministry of Labour charged Claridge Homes, Bellai Brothers Construction Ltd. and two supervisors, including Leo Simard from Bellai Brothers, for failing to ensure the health and safety of workers and failing to employ proper safety measures and procedures.

A Radio-Canada/CBC News investigation later revealed that Bellai Brothers was convicted of offences related to the deaths of two other workers in 1996. Jesus Revilla was one of them.

The regional supervising coroner announced Dec. 1, that an inquest will now be held into Revilla's death, more than two decades later.
Olivier Bruneau, 24, was a surveyor with Bellai Brothers Construction. He was working at the bottom of an excavation pit in March 2016 when he was crushed by falling ice. (Supplied)

Fell from scaffolding

Revilla, 38, died in December 1996 after plunging 13 metres from scaffolding inside a silo near Perth, Ont., where crews had been building the structures at a factory.

When I reviewed the file and I looked at it, I said, 'Yes it looks like a construction death.' - Dr. Louise McNaughton-Fillion, regional supervising coroner

Investigators found a number of safety deficiencies at the time of Revilla's death. For example, there were no guardrails around the platform where he'd been working when he fell.

Court ruled that "none of the defendants have shown anywhere near the amount of diligence that could be considered reasonable and due." Bellai Brothers Construction and Simard, among others, were convicted and fined.
This photo, taken from the bottom of the construction pit where Olivier Bruneau died, was later found on his phone. (Supplied)

Yet at the time, a coroner's inquest was never held in Revilla's death, a fact that contravenes Ontario's Coroners Act.

According to the act, when a worker dies on a construction site of non-natural causes, it triggers a "mandatory" inquest. 

Questions from Radio-Canada about Revilla's death prompted the coroner's office to review its files.

Dr. Louise McNaughton-Fillion, the regional supervising coroner for the Ottawa east region, said she's perplexed over why an inquest was not called 20 years ago.

"I really don't have an answer for you, the decision was made by somebody who has long since retired," McNaughton-Fillion said.

"When I reviewed the file and I looked at it, I said, 'Yes it looks like a construction death.' And after having it reviewed by experts in the area, it became very clear it was a construction death."

'Maybe Olivier would still be with us'

McNaughton-Fillion said calling an inquest more than two decades after a death is very rare.

"It is always better to do an investigation when things have just occurred, because you can address issues in a more timely manner."

Christian Bruneau, Olivier's father, said he is "extremely disappointed" the inquest into Revilla's death did not happen earlier.

"It could have revealed systemic issues with Bellai and Leo Simard's workers safety practices at that time. Maybe Olivier would still be with us if the inquiry had taken place," Bruneau said. 

A date for the inquest into Revilla's death has not yet been set.