Criminally charge BC Liberal donor who got away with small fine for causing construction worker’s death, petition urges

By Amy Chen

The former BC government refused to pursue criminal charges against a major BC Liberal donor whose serious and repeated violations of health and safety rules were ruled in March as causing the death of a construction worker in 2015, sparking outrage among labour rights groups.

Now, a new petition is urging Premier John Horgan, Labour Minister Harry Bains and Attorney General David Eby to immediately bring criminal charges against Onni Group executives including president Rossano De Cotiis for the death of Sean Alexander Donetz[1]

When WorkSafeBC ruled in last March that Onni Contracting Ltd., a subsidiary of the Onni Group of Companies, was responsible for Donetz’s death in Kamloops in 2015 and fined Onni a $48,719.50, the then provincial government of Premier Christy Clark refused to lay charges against Onni’s executives under under Bill C-45, popularly known as the Westray Bill, which makes employers criminally liable for deaths of workers[2]

“Such a paltry fine for a safety violation that cost a worker his life sends a message to employers that they don’t have to follow the rules,” says BCFED President Irene Lanzinger said. “It says employers can kill or injure workers with impunity, or at worst a small fine and a slap on the wrist. It’s unacceptable.”

Onni and De Cotiis have donated at least $305,000 to Christy Clark and the BC Liberals, including a $100,000 gift before the WorkSafeBC ruling. [4]

Bill C-45, created as a result of the 1992 Westray coal mining disaster in Nova Scotia where 26 miners were killed after methane gas ignited causing an explosion, added Section 217.1 to the Criminal Code which reads:

“217.1 Every one who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task.”[5]

“As the prime contractor of a multi-employer workplace, the firm failed to ensure the coordination of the occupational health activities of employers, workers, and other individuals at the workplace,” WorkSafeBC ruled. “This was a high-risk and repeated violation.”

The petition claims that the BC Liberals have sent a clear message to all employers in BC: “Kill a worker, get a slap on the wrist.”

The petition want the NDP government to begin process of “healing the damage done to the labour movement by the BC Liberals” by sending a strong message to all employers: “Kill a worker, go to jail”.

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