From a 22-year-old fatally injured on her second day of work at a B.C. quarry to a 65-year-old Manitoban who died just 13 days before retirement, these profiles tell the stories of a fraction of the roughly 350 people who die on the job every year in Canada.
These seven cases from across the country include different age groups, occupations and legal outcomes. The one constant is the mourning family left behind.
The profiles are part of a CBC News investigation into the consequences employers face when they are convicted of violating workplace laws in connection with a fatality.
Drawing from a sample of more than 250 cases from across Canada, CBC News found fines varied widely across jurisdictions, and the median fine for the country as a whole was $97,500.
In only a handful of cases, someone did time behind bars.
For some families, the search for justice is never-ending as they struggle with fines they believe are too low and penalties they argue will not be a catalyst to make other workplaces safer.
Here are their stories.
'The ultimate human price'
Kelsey Anne Kristian was searching for adventure, and a spring spent hauling rocks near Mission, B.C., seemed like a perfect fit.
The 22-year-old started work at a quarry on May 16, 2007.
The next day she died.
She hadn't been adequately taught how to park the 30-tonne truck she'd been driving and it rolled, crushing her, court documents say.
"Here she was, a new, young worker. Kelsey had never been in one of those kind of trucks before, never had any qualifications," said her mother, Tara Kristian, in Stuart Island, B.C.
“There was a whole line of things that went wrong, and that is what has to change. Somebody has to be held responsible."
Tara Kristian says the job at Stave Lake Quarries was an escape for her daughter, a way to make some money while figuring out what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
Her passion was working with kids. In her short life, she worked at the Zajac Ranch in Mission, B.C., a camp devoted to working with kids suffering from chronic illnesses and disabilities. She also worked at YMCA camps and ultimately wanted her career to focus on helping kids.
"It was good money and she was just sort of [going to] bide her time there," her mom said.
It took years, but in 2015, the British Columbia Crown counsel laid a charge of criminal negligence causing death against Stave Lake Quarries Inc., two supervisors and a numbered company. It is one of only a handful of times in Canada's history that a company has been charged under the Criminal Code following a workplace death.
Relying on the agreed statement of facts, Judge Robert Hamilton’s 2016 sentencing decision offered details about Kelsey Kristian's training and the events preceding her death.
The supervisor who hired her was a family friend and there was no evidence she ever submitted a resume, the decision said.
On Day 1 she was trained to operate the 30-tonne rock hauler and supervised while driving it. She sat in the passenger seat for part of the day, watching her supervisor, before switching spots.
By Day 2 she had begun what was described in court documents as "entry-level" work, loading and unloading cargo using the truck.
That afternoon, her supervisor had to leave and she was instructed to park the vehicle. She didn't immediately, but once the workday ended, she parked it on the top of a slope.
The truck was only secured with air brakes, and when the pressure in the air brakes bled off, the truck went sliding down the slope.
She attempted to get in the cab of the truck, but couldn't — the handle was secured with a bungee cord because the door handle was missing, court documents say.
As it slid, it hit something and rolled over, and she was crushed to death.
Hamilton stated Kristian had never driven a truck of that magnitude and her training only involved an oral review with her supervisor on the use of air brakes.
No books, manuals or written materials were used and she was never tested on what she had learned.
"There was a near total absence of any safety precautions put in place to ensure Kelsey's safety," Hamilton said when he sentenced the company on Oct. 27, 2016.
"Kelsey died, paying the ultimate human price for the defendant's criminal negligence."
The company pleaded guilty to the charge, while charges against the supervisors and other company were stayed. After a joint submission was made by the Crown and the defence, Stave Lake Quarries was fined $115,000— a figure Tara Kristian sees as a slap on the wrist.
Requests for comment by the company or the lawyer who represented the company were not returned.
Hamilton noted in his decision that no serious accidents or injuries had occurred at the quarry since Kristian's death. He also said the company had implemented better record-keeping and training, and started ensuring all employees sign an acknowledgement stating they have read the training manual.
While the charge was initially celebrated by labour advocates as a move toward greater accountability for workplace deaths, the eventual outcome of the court proceedings drew heavy criticism from Tara Kristian.
She still feels no one was held to account.
The B.C. Crown stayed the charges against the supervisors after they reviewed the file further and determined there wasn't enough evidence to secure a conviction, the B.C. Prosecution Service said.
"I would have loved to see someone go to jail, even if it was just for a year, house arrest. I would have loved to see someone pay," Kristian said.
"If you have to pay $100,000, you are still having Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas with all your family. I won't have any of those with Kelsey anymore."
Electrocuted at work
The last words Patrick Desjardins said to his parents were: "I love you mom and dad. I'll see you tomorrow."
It was Jan. 4, 2011, and the 17-year-old was off to spend the night at a friend's and then go to work the next afternoon at Walmart's Tire and Lube Express in Grand Falls, N.B.
That evening, Desjardins cleaned the floor of the shop using a floor buffer purchased at a garage sale. It was plugged into a makeshift extension cord protected partially with a rag wrapped around it.
He died after he was electrocuted while using the buffer.
"I have never called my son's death an accident, because it wasn't," said Fabien Desjardins, Patrick's father.
"We lost our son because of that machine that was bought at a yard sale and an extension cord that was frayed. Really? They sell extension cords 20 feet away at the store. Why? It shouldn't happen whatsoever."
Walmart Canada faced eight charges under the New Brunswick Occupational Health and Safety Act, while a supervisor faced two charges.
The agreed statement of facts read during Walmart’s sentencing outlined the details of WorkSafe New Brunswick’s investigation following his death.
The investigation found employees had previously been shocked by the buffer. While it was an unauthorized piece of equipment, supervisors were aware the used buffer existed and had repaid the employee who purchased it with the store's petty cash.
"And in spite of its obvious age, it was not inspected prior to being put into use," the agreed statement of facts said.
On Jan. 5, 2011, Desjardins was cleaning the floor with soap and water using the buffer. As he coiled the extension cord, his knees buckled and he fell onto his back.
He pulled the buffer on top of him, landed on the wet floor and then suffered electrical shocks for 25 seconds.
He was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The investigation found the shock insulation built into the machine was no longer effective, nor was the machine ever part of monthly inspections. Because it was never an official piece of equipment, employees were never trained how to use it.
In 2012, Walmart Canada pleaded guilty to three new charges for failure to ensure the polisher was inspected, failure to ensure the equipment was suitable and well-maintained and failure to take reasonable precautions to ensure the health and safety of an employee.
The supervisor pleaded guilty to failing to provide a healthy and safe workplace for employees and failing to inform employees of the dangers of using the floor polisher in the garage.
He was fined $880.
After a joint submission was made by the Crown attorney and the defence, the judge agreed to fine the company $120,000.
"The machine should have never been in there. Those children should never, ever, have touched that machine with water," said Dorie Desjardins, Patrick's mom.
"He was 17. He was full of life."
She described her son, who was in Grade 12 at the time of his death, as a "teddy bear" — a young man who loved the outdoors and fishing and hugged her every day. He offered advice to his girlfriends and hated bullies.
"He was the love of my life, next to his father, and they took him away," his mom said.
Provincial court Judge Paul Duffie said in his decision the charges and fines were "appropriate, fit and reasonable in the circumstances."
He said Walmart showed remorse and admitted its responsibility by pleading guilty. He also applauded the remedial measures the company had taken, including a countrywide search for similar unauthorized equipment and ensuring its immediate removal.
"It's a job well done," he said of the joint submission.
Patrick Desjardins's family doesn't agree.
"Walmart can earn $120,000 in 15 seconds," his father said.
"[It's] not enough, but what is enough? It's trying to put a price tag on my son and you can't do it. As far as I am concerned, if these workplaces get caught … those fines should be increased, big time."
A spokesperson for Walmart called Desjardins's death "an absolute tragedy" and outlined a series of steps the company has taken since his death to increase safety, including establishing a national compliance team that monitors compliance and safety programs.
Never to resurface
It was a cool winter's day on the northern peninsula when three wildlife enforcement officers set off to investigate a routine firearms violation.
Only two returned alive.
The investigation turned into a rescue mission after Howard Lavers's snowmobile fell through the ice when it hit open water while travelling across the Eastern Blue Pond, on the northwest side of Newfoundland about 460 kilometres west of St. John's.
None of the officers was wearing a life-jacket, which wasn't required equipment, although Lavers, 57, had spent years pushing the division to purchase new safety gear.
An undated photo of Howard Lavers, who died on the job after working at Newfoundland's Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Division for 25 years. (Christina Lavers)
Mike Lavers, his son, can't help wondering what difference it would have made if his father had been wearing a specialized snowmobile life-jacket that day in 2013.
"We knew what happened and we knew what could have prevented it," Mike Lavers told CBC News from St. John's.
"He was asking, in previous months, previous years, he had been asking for equipment for this use."
After Lavers went under, he was able to pull himself up and hold onto the unbroken ice. His two partners tried to pull him from the freezing water, throwing rope towards him. The wind kept it from reaching Lavers, and hypothermia began to set in.
One partner fell through the ice multiple times during the rescue attempt. He had worked with Lavers for almost his entire career, around town and in the division. They had earned the nickname Starsky and Hutch.
"They were hand in hand, they were together. If they were gone to work, they were gone to work together," Mike Lavers said about his father's relationship with his partner.
Eventually, Lavers could hold on no longer and fell completely into the water, never to resurface.
Lavers had worked for the province's Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Division for more than 25 years.
Subsequent court proceedings found no policy for ice safety was developed by the Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Divison or the Newfoundland and Labrador government. The division's life-jackets were also inadequate and not suitable in the event an officer fell through ice, said a statement of facts agreed to by the provincial government and presented in court after it was charged.
The government pleaded guilty and was fined $70,000 in 2015 for failing to provide proper training on ice rescue, failing to mandate and provide adequate flotation devices and not having a "travelling over ice" policy.
The government made a host of changes after Lavers's death to increase safety when travelling on ice.
Floatable snowmobile suits were issued to wildlife officers. Officers are also now armed with more tools, especially with respect to ice conditions. They have buoyant rope, advanced vehicle location equipment and GPS technology.
It is little solace to Mike or his 28-year-old sister, Christina, who still lives in the community of Port Saunders, just over 30 kilometres northwest of the pond where her dad died. She watches officers ride by, wearing the safety gear that her father never had.
"It just comes back to the government and politics and money, that in order for something to happen, someone has to lose their life," Mike Lavers said.
"Which is pretty sad. He was asking for this stuff for years and fighting, always fighting, to better improve safety."
In 2015, the province publicly apologized for its role in Lavers's death, saying it has brought everlasting change to how the enforcement division operates.
"It is the Department of Justice and Public Safety's genuine belief that the measures introduced will assist in preventing a similar event from happening in the future," it said.
Allan Leschyshyn was just 13 days away from retirement when he died on the job.
Leschyshyn, 65, was working a short-term contract at Wuskwatim Generating Station, which he planned to work for three weeks before spending his remaining days at a newly purchased cabin on Falcon Lake, Man., with his wife, Wanda, and the rest of his close-knit family.
Just one week into the job, on the evening of April 20, 2011, his crew was taking down a large tarp used in the project. A metal rod came loose and hit Leschyshyn on the side of head, killing him instantly.
"It brings you to your knees. Not everything in your life brings you to your knees," Wanda Leschyshyn said about learning in a phone call that the retirement her husband had worked for would never happen.
"We should all come home every night from work."
LaFarge Canada hired Leschyshyn and three other men through a contractor to dismantle the tarp used in the construction of the hydro-electric dam.
Lafarge had hired a subcontractor to erect the tent but was responsible for the site.
While workers were dismantling the structure, the fabric started ripping, but that did not stop the work, an agreed statement of facts says.
Around 5:30 p.m., a large rod ripped free from the tent and flung towards Leschyshyn, court documents say.
It "came with that velocity, like a catapult, and it hit him," his wife said.
Crown attorney Tim Chudy argued during the sentencing hearing that Leschyshyn was put into the "danger zone" prior to his death.
He told a Manitoba provincial court judge there was no written safe work procedure or job risk analysis with respect to the dismantling.
"Mr. Leschyshyn should never have been within that zone while that tarp was being pulled back," Chudy said in 2014.
LaFarge pleaded guilty to one count under the Manitoba Workplace Health and Safety Act of failing to ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of its workers; 15 other counts laid against the company were stayed by the Crown attorney.
The $188,000 fine levied against the company was the largest in Manitoba's history for a workplace fatality.
That means little to Wanda Leschyshyn, who questions what impact it has on a multimillion-dollar corporation such as LaFarge.
"I am glad that they were fined. I am glad they were at least held accountable without getting off the hook, but as far as the charges and fines … the [courts] failed," she said.
"That is nothing for a large company like that. When you hit a company in their pocketbook, that is when they will sit up and take notice of who you are."
Representatives from the Calgary-based company declined to do an interview, but sent a prepared statement.
"Lafarge was forever shaken by losing our colleague and friend, Allan Leschyshyn in 2011," wrote spokesperson Jennifer Lewis. "The grief his family feels can only be multitudes stronger. It is our deepest value and highest priority to ensure all of our employees return home to their loved ones every day."
At the sentencing hearing, the lawyer representing the company stated that "accident prevention and safety in the workplace is very important."
"Some 48,730 hours of man hours were logged at the Wuskwatim project prior to this tragic incident, without incident," said lawyer Maria Grande. "LaFarge appreciates that no amount of fine will replace the loss, the pain and the suffering suffered by the family."
The last post Guy Ouellette made on his Facebook account said: "14 hour day and still rigging. The things I do for money."
The 39-year-old oil rig worker from Estevan, Sask., died two weeks later, on Dec. 14, 2009, when he was crushed under a drilling platform that collapsed where he was working near Kisbey, Sask.
Nearly five years later, the Calgary company that owned the rig, IROC Energy Services Corp., operating as Eagle Well Servicing, pleaded guilty to two charges under Saskatchewan’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulations and was fined $18,200.
IROC contravened regulations by failing to ensure a guy line needed to stabilize the rig had been attached. It also failed to ensure a log book was reviewed and signed each day by a supervisor.
PetroBakken Energy of Calgary, Alta., owner of the surface lease at the rig’s location, pleaded guilty to two charges under Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, for failing to ensure that a rig was properly inspected and failing to take action immediately when an unsafe condition is identified. PetroBakken was fined $28,000.
In both court cases, the Crown and defence agreed the breaches that led to the guilty pleas did not cause the accident.
But a lawyer for PetroBakken told court a consulting report by a leading expert in metallurgy “concluded the collapse of the rig occurred because of the failure of a number of aluminum welds that had been improperly made on that rig.”
An agreed statement of facts in the IROC Energy case said "a number of causes contributed in unison to the tragic accident." Although the charges were called "serious breaches," the records say they had not "caused or contributed" to the death of Ouellette, who was the rig manager.
No one was ever fined in connection with the allegedly improper welds on the rig. While a third company was charged relating to the welds, that charge was stayed.
IROC acknowledged in court that expert opinions indicated there was a problem with the rig’s beams, and after the incident it said it had to replace and repair 25 beams at other locations at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars.
"It's really upsetting," Ouellette's widow, Cory Ouellette, said of the fines.
"They were not even a slap on the wrist. In my opinion, the companies … that was just pocket change to them. I don't believe it had an impact," she said.
Cory Ouellette still talks to people working in the oilpatch, and feels some companies are still cutting corners. "Some have changed, but there's still the mentality of 'get the job done at whatever cost' — just do it. And that's scary."
When the conviction and fine against IROC Energy Services were announced in 2014, the Saskatchewan government said in the preceding decade, there had been 31 workplace deaths in the province's oil and gas industry.
Since then, seven more people have died.
"I think the fines should be higher. I think there is too much coddling of the oil industry," said Dianne Ouellette, Guy's sister. "My brother overall did like working on the rigs, so I never bashed the rigs in any way, but I do think the fines need to be greater, and I think it will have more impact on the companies if the fines are greater."
In the prosecutions that followed Guy Ouellette’s death, the Crown was in agreement with the amounts of the fines against IROC Energy and PetroBakken. The Crown told court the missing guy line didn’t cause the accident, and that even if it had been properly installed, it wouldn’t have prevented the collapse of the oil rig.
The Crown also pointed out that Ouellette made mistakes, such as failing to sign off on the rig’s log book that tracks inspections.
Court was also told that while Ouellette was working on the rig, he failed to attach an auxiliary escape line — a mandatory device meant to provide a worker with a means of escape in an emergency. Even so, the Crown said the rig collapsed so suddenly that use of an escape line wouldn’t have helped Ouellette.
A filmmaker, Dianne Ouellette reacted to her brother's death by making a documentary, entitled Rigger, to honour his life.
She wanted to show how Ouellette's death affected the family, including his wife and two children, who were 12 and six when their father died.
"My message is that if you feel unsafe or you feel unsure, walk away, because your job is not worth your life," Dianne Ouellette said.
After her husband died, Cory Ouellette began a career as a safety adviser in health care.
"Your family doesn't deserve for you not to come home. They shouldn't have to go through what we went through," she said.
Ouellette's employer, Eagle Well Servicing — a division of IROC Energy Services — was purchased by Western Energy Services Corp. in 2013. Western Energy declined to comment for this story.
PetroBakken is no longer in business. The company changed its name to Lightstream Resources in 2013, and in 2016 Lightstream entered bankruptcy protection.
The company's former CEO, John D. Wright, said it "was a horrible tragedy and obviously there would have been a way to prevent it in the long term, if all the proper safety precautions had been taken."
"We would have wished things had been different. We would have wished that our supervisor had been on site, and noticed that the rig didn't have its guy wire set," Wright said.
"I'm not sure that greater fines are the answer. I think the statistics in the industry are showing that safety continues to be a high priority for everyone."
After the accident, "we doubled down on our safety meetings and reinforced our safety protocol through the company. We worked very hard to make sure there was not just adequate supervision, but competent supervision, in all the field sites that we had," said Wright.
"It is a very safety conscious industry. It's just, unfortunately, things happen."
A dream to move out West to finance a career as a race car driver ended in a nightmare for Jordan Gahan and his family.
The 21-year-old followed the footsteps of hundreds of job-hungry East Coasters who saw Alberta as the promised land.
It was 2013, oil prices were still high and a young man willing to put in the hard work and long hours didn't have to look long to find a job.
"Jordan was very much a self-starter, and … when I really feel grief is when I think about how he really had life by the horns," said Leica Gahan, his mother.
Within a few months of moving from New Brunswick to Alberta, he started at Brayford Trucking, a Leduc-based contractor.
Soon, he was travelling frequently to Alberta's oilsands.
On March 14, 2014, Gahan was nearing the end of his rotation at a remote worksite near Fort McMurray, according to an agreed statement of facts.
He hopped into a 39-tonne excavator early in the afternoon.
It had been a routine day for Gahan, but the melting snow was keeping him busy. It filled the burrow pits he was assigned to fill with dirt and later froze when temperatures dropped.
What Gahan and the people he worked for didn't realize was that under the sheet of ice where the equipment sat idle was four metres of frigid water.
When he changed positions, the ice cracked and the excavator sank with Gahan inside.
"There was no way to rescue Jordan," his mom said.
"Jordan's hard hat floated up, and then his body floated up."
The agreed statement of facts from subsequent court proceedings said Gahan had not been trained to operate the excavator on ice. He didn't know he needed to calculate the load of his machine in relation to the thickness of ice.
In his 2017 sentencing, Alberta provincial court Judge Harry Van Harten called the incident a "needless death of a young man who died as a result of insufficient safety protocol."
The company pleaded guilty this April to two counts under Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Act — failure to ensure its worker was trained in the safe operation of equipment and failure to test the ice under the water. The company was fined $100,000.
It was also placed on corporate probation for two years, meaning the court laid out a series of 23 conditions the company must follow. They included having a member of the company take a safety course, creating policies to ensure there are no subsequent offences and submitting their compliance to the conditions to an auditor for review.
One of the greatest comforts for Leica Gahan was the condition in the probation order that made the company publish a 650-word letter in a New Brunswick paper.
"I want the story out there, because … these people die at work, right? And my son was a wonderful young man, and his memory, I need, I want to promote health and safety," she said.
"I want people to know what's happening to people. They're dying. Well, why are they dying?"
Susan and Kevin Brayford's letter was published on Oct. 23, which would have been Jordan Gahan's 25th birthday.
The letter lists the actions the company has taken since his death, including updating its safe work policies and a requirement to verify the conditions of burrow hole pits to ensure there is no water present.
"There have been many lessons from that day. In short, we now know better and we will do better," the Brayfords wrote.
"As the owners of Brayford Trucking Ltd., we live with thinking perhaps if we had been on site that dreadful day, this may not have happened … all we can do is make every effort to prevent anything like this from ever happening again."
A job he loved
Estella Hickey's son bravely battled kidney disease his entire life, but in the end, he lost his life to injuries from an explosion at work.
"He had a lot of health issues and died by something that was preventable — that is the sad part," she said.
Kyle Hickey, 22, spent his life in and out of hospital, but he was doing the job he loved when an explosion ripped through the collision centre where he worked.
He suffered burns across his body that left him unrecognizable and he died the next day.
The exact reason for the 2008 explosion at O'Regan's Collision Centre in Dartmouth, N.S., was never determined. A barrel holding a highly flammable solvent stored on site that day was identified as where the explosion originated, court documents say.
There was no evidence the barrel was properly labelled or stored, said an agreed statement of facts read out at the sentencing hearing two years after Hickey died. It was also determined there was no documentation that Hickey had been given site-specific training on the hazardous chemicals in use at his workplace.
The company, O'Regan Chevrolet Cadillac, pleaded guilty to one count of failing to take every precaution reasonable to ensure the health and safety of a worker, a Nova Scotia Occupational Health and Safety Act offence. The company was fined $38,750; four other charges were stayed.
Hickey began restoring automobiles at the collision centre after earning a diploma in automotive collision repair in 2007.
The work suited him perfectly because he got to use his hands every day and he was liked by staff, his mom said.
"When Kyle walked into a room, you knew it. He lit up a room when he came into it. He was just popular and well-liked."
On March 13, 2008 — the nine-month anniversary of his employment at the autobody shop — the explosion occurred.
The CBC report that day said the blast sent 15 people to hospital for medical treatment.
The Crown attorney had asked for a fine of $150,000, but provincial court Judge Pamela Williams said that figure did not fit the company's culpability.
The safety violations the company pleaded guilty to did not directly cause the explosion or Hickey's death and the company had no prior safety violations, she said.
In response to Hickey's death, it built a "robust supervisory and compliance system" that cost $19,000, she said.
"This sentence expresses deterrence and denunciation for the lapses in O'Regan's workplace safety policy and procedures in March of 2008," Williams said in her 2010 decision.
Estella Hickey said a figure that low isn't enough to entice companies to make the workplace safer.
"The fine should have been higher and then employers would make sure the workplace was safe, if they were fined," she said.
O'Regan's declined an interview, but in a prepared statement, company president Sean O'Regan said their thoughts and prayers go to the Hickey family.
"The appropriate fine level is best determined by the courts, based on Nova Scotia law, not by our company. Regardless of the amount of any fine levied, as a company we are committed to doing our best to protect the safety of our employees," he said in the statement.
"O'Regan's never wants to see another family go through what the Hickey family has experienced since Kyle's death."
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