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Apr 10, 2019

Stage Collapse Inquest Commences

By Cynthia R. C. Sefton

An inquest into the death of a worker at a stage collapse in June 2012 commenced on March 25, 2019, nearly seven years after the workplace death.

The Prosecution

In June 2012, just prior to the start of a concert in Toronto, the performance stage collapsed. A worker was killed and others were injured. In June 2013, the Ontario Ministry of Labour charged three defendants with 13 counts under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The investigation had been a lengthy one, involving many witness interviews and engineering and technical investigations.

There were many factors accounting for the ultimate delay of 60 months, including ongoing disclosure of information by the Crown, underestimates of necessary trial time and the appointment of the trial judge to the Superior Court. All of this resulted in a mistrial and the setting of new trial dates before a different judge.

In September 2017, the new trial judge granted a defence application to permanently stay all charges against the defendants. A stay means that the charges will not be tried on their merits.

The Reasons for the Stay of the Charges for Delay

In staying the charges, the trial judge relied on the Supreme Court of Canada July 2016 decision in R. v. Jordan, in which the Court laid out a new framework of analysis for delay. The decision said that any delay over 18 months from the time of the swearing of the information to support the charges to the scheduled date of conclusion of the trial is “presumptively unreasonable.” In the stage collapse case, the delay was a little under 60 months.

The prosecution was a complex case and there were unavoidable and separate events that added to the time challenges. Taking those factors into account, as well as the defence delay, the permissible delay was 30 months, half of the 60 months that had passed.

Conclusion

An inquest and a prosecution serve different functions, and different legal factors apply. However, at the end of the day, both can play a useful role in the prevention of workplace injury and death.

A prosecution is aimed at identifying breaches of the law and deterring the specific defendant and others generally from engaging in such behaviour in the future.

At the inquest, the coroner’s jury does not assign legal blame on any specific party. The jury determines five things: who the deceased was, where he or she died, when the death took place, and how and by what means the death occurred. This inquest is expected to last about three weeks and over 20 witnesses will be called. At the end, the jury will make recommendations for the prevention of future, similar deaths.

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