At least 11 employers sentenced to jail for safety violations in Ontario, figures show

Ontario has given jail sentences to at least 11 employers - more than any other province - as it cracks down on safety at job sites. But statistics obtained by CBC News show that number pales in comparison to the hundreds of workplace-related deaths across the country every year.

CBC News obtained details of just over 250 incidents across most provinces over the past several years

John Hill was a roofer who died after a fall in Toronto back in August 2011. (Dylan Hill)

John Hill was 45 years old when he fell about six metres from a ladder at a home on Brooke Avenue in midtown Toronto in 2011.

Hill tried to shake it off. He picked himself off the ground, then told his boss he wanted to go home. Seconds later he collapsed.

His boss, Paul Markewycz — the owner of Roofing Medics — put Hill in his car and started driving towards a hospital. But it was too late.

Hill died in the back seat of internal injuries.

Last week, his son Dylan, now 26, recounted that horrific day.

Fifteen days doesn't justify a life. It doesn't make up for that.- Dylan Hill

"I found out through a phone call. My mom called me," he said. "My dad was a very hard worker. He loved roofing. Unfortunately that's how he passed away. He fell off a ladder."

An investigation revealed Markewycz had lied about the circumstances of the fall, and failed to report it to authorities under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act.

A year earlier, the company had been warned by provincial authorities to enforce regulations at its job sites after an inspection revealed safety violations. Yet, on the day of the fatal workplace accident, Hill was working without a proper safety line.

Roofing Medics was eventually fined $62,500, including victim surcharges, and Markewycz was sentenced to 15 days in jail in one of the first cases that led to the incarceration of a business owner in Ontario.

Justice C. Ann Nelson said there was a need "to deter defendants, and more importantly other supervisors ... from failing to protect their employees."

Dylan Hill says the jail sentence was an important step forward, but "15 days doesn't justify a life. It doesn't make up for that.

"There needs to be more enforcement and more focus on safety at job sites," he added.

Hundreds die on the job every year

More workers die on the job than you might think. In 2015 alone — the last year for which complete nationwide statistics are available — there were 853 work-related deaths in Canada.

About a third of these cases are considered acute fatalities, meaning the person died in an accident. The other two thirds are due to exposure over time to harmful substances.

CBC News obtained details for just over 250 incidents across most provinces over the past several years where an employer was convicted for violating a health and safety law in connection with an acute fatality. On average, fines levied in each case total $97,500. In Ontario, the number is higher at $125 000.

In addition to the case involving Hill, at least 10 other employers in Ontario have been sentenced to jail for failing to enforce safety regulations on job sites and protect their workers. That's by far the most in Canada.

But appeal courts have struck down those sentences entirely in at least two cases, meaning those convicted spent no time in jail whatsoever.

In January 2015, two directors of Brampton-based New Mex Canada were sentenced to 25 days in jail after a warehouse worker fell to his death from a platform.  A Ministry of Labour investigation found multiple violations of Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act and of Ontario Regulation 851, which covers industrial workplaces. The company was also fined $250,000.

At the time, Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan complained "this decision does not go far enough. This employer should be facing criminal charges in addition to Occupational Health and Safety violations. A mere 25 days in jail and $250,000 fine does not send a strong enough message."

The directors didn't have to serve their sentences. They were overturned this past September by an appeal court that ruled the sentences were excessive.

42-month sentence under appeal

Vadim Kazenelson was sentenced on Jan. 11, 2016 to three-and-a-half years in prison for criminal negligence causing death in connection with the 2009 deaths of four workers in a scaffolding collapse. He is free on bail, pending the appeal of his conviction. (CBC)

In a third appeal that will be heard next month, Vadim Kazenelson — the director of Metron Construction — will ask Ontario's Court of Appeal to overturn his conviction and sentence.

In 2016, Kazenelson was sentenced to 42 months in prison. He was the project manager for six workers repairing balconies on the 13th floor of a Kipling Avenue apartment building on Christmas Eve 2009.

Only one man was wearing a safety harness when the swing-stage they were working on collapsed. Four men died and one was seriously injured when they plummeted more than 30 metres.

Kazenelson was sentenced on four counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. He has yet to serve any time in jail.

Four men died in the Dec. 24, 2009, scaffolding accident in Toronto. (CBC)

His lawyers have argued "the real responsibility for the accident lay with the faulty construction of the swing stage for which Metron was not responsible." The court was told the swing-stage was rented and came with no warnings or markings outlining how many workers it could support. The lawyers also argued Metron had a prior "good character."

When asked about jail sentences being wiped away by the courts, Ontario's Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn told CBC News: "I'm concerned when I see that." 

Stiffer fines coming

Flynn notes on-the-job fatalities have devastating effects on families and workplaces and stiff penalties are required.

"I get that email, about once a week in Ontario that someone who left in the morning, isn't coming back to their family at night," the minister said.

The deaths are the result of workers and employers "bending the rules," Dylan Hill said.

"If there was more enforcement" he said, "there would be less casualties."

While there is no indication Ontario will boost enforcement and spot checks on job sites, the government does plan to increase maximum fines against individuals from $50,000 to $100,000. Maximum fines against corporations and directors would also jump from $500,000 to $1.5 million.

"The number of fatalities is remaining stubbornly high," Flynn said.


John Lancaster

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

John Lancaster is a senior reporter with CBC News focusing on investigative and enterprise journalism. His stories have taken him across Canada, the US and the Caribbean. His reports have appeared on CBC Toronto, The National, CBC's Marketplace, The Fifth Estate-and of course CBC online and radio. Drop him a line anytime at