Prosecution rate for workplace deaths 'horrendous,' says mother whose son was killed on the job

Julie Hamilton lost her son, Tim, in a horrific accident 18 years ago. She talked to host Duncan McCue about her struggle to find justice for her son.
Julie Hamilton lost her 19-year-old son, Tim, in a workplace fatality. (Julie Hamilton )

Julie Hamilton lost her son, Tim, in a horrific accident 18 years ago. Hamilton's son was electrocuted - the result of a mistake by his employer. She says the prosecution rates for cases like these are too low. 

"If we only prosecuted six and a half percent of speeders or DUIs, people would be up in arms," she says.

Checkup host Duncan McCue talked to Hamilton in Calgary about her struggle to find justice for her son.

Julie Hamilton: We lost our son Tim 18 years, four months and 24 days ago. I ache for that boy every day. There has to be some real big changes in how occupational health and safety deal with accidents and death. In Alberta, I know they say that our fines are three times higher than the national average, but it's not hard to be three times higher than the national average when you're only prosecuting 6.4  per cent of the serious injuries and accidents. To me, that is horrendous.

Duncan McCue: What happened to your son, Julie?

JH: Tim was putting up a tent for a party rental company and an engineer from the company that hired Fiesta Party Rentals, FirstEnergy. The engineer from FirstEnergy told a group of high school kids and unskilled laborers to put the tent up underneath a hydro line and so he said, "I know there's a power line there but it shouldn't be a problem." So Tim pushed the pole up into position the power arced and he was electrocuted.

Since then I've gone across the country, across North America. I just got back from doing presentations on workplace safety and on choices. The vast, vast majority of companies are trying their darndest to make sure everybody's safe. But [Occupational Health and Safety] runs into a problem, like someone who isn't doing it. Like they are going to do an investigation, OK? And the law in Alberta states that any statement given to an OHS investigator cannot - cannot - be used in court.

So how are they supposed to lay charges against these companies if they can't even use the statements that had given to them by the employees - the surviving employees?

DM: And when you say when you say OHS, you mean occupational health and safety, so those would be provincial employees, right?

JH: Yes. And so you know myself and many others have gone to each and asked and said: 'Come on you got to do better on this.' And they say: 'Well it's not our fault it's the Crown's fault. They won't prosecute. We do the investigation and they won't prosecute.' So you go to the Justice Department, and the Justice Department says: 'Well it's not our fault. It's OHS. They don't do a good enough investigation.'

I mean these are all people with high paying jobs. They've got brains. They've got the abilities. But they're dumping the responsibility off onto somebody else.

And the only people who lose are the kids that are killed, the moms and dads that are killed. I mean it's just - it breaks my heart every time I hear about yet another.

DM: Well and to have you travelling around talking about workplace safety, that's quite something Julie. I'm wondering how did it end up playing out in your son's case, in terms of trying to get some sort of answers from the employer?

JH: Fiesta Party Rentals was charged. They were found guilty and they declared bankruptcy - never paid the fine. We sued the engineer from FirstEnergy and that's over. I mean, does it make any difference? No. Nobody said 'we were at fault,' but there is never an answer. There has to be a way to stop these from happening again. Tim's death was, like I said, almost 18 and a half years ago. And you say there are 300 people killed a year. It doesn't go back to zero at the end of December. It's another 300 a year - 300 more people every year are being killed on the workplace. And this has to stop. If we only prosecuted six and a half percent of speeders or DUIs, people would be up in arms.

All comments have been edited and condensed for clarity. To listen to the full interview, click on the audio link above. This online segment was prepared by Arman Aghbali.