Crown expected to ask for 4- to 5-year sentence for Vadim Kazenelson
A Toronto construction site supervisor who saw four men fall to their deaths on Christmas Eve in 2009 will be at the heart of a historic sentencing hearing today.
Vadim Kazenelson will be the first man in Ontario to be sentenced under a 2004 law introduced federally to make companies and employers criminally liable for workplace deaths, prompted by the 1992 Westray mine disaster in Nova Scotia that killed 26.
The Ontario Superior Court found Kazenelson, now in his 40s, guilty in June 2015 of four counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence.
Four Metron Construction Inc. workers — Aleksey Blumberg, 32, Alexander Bondorev, 25, Fayzullo Fazilov, 31, and Vladimir Korostin, 40 — died after falling 13 storeys on Dec. 24, 2009, when the scaffolding beneath them collapsed.
“You can’t chalk up a worker’s life as the cost of doing business.” – Chris Buckley, Ontario Federation of Labour president
Another man, Dilshod Marupov, was seriously injured, suffering a fractured spine and ribs, in the fall outside the highrise apartment building on Kipling Avenue, just south of Steeles Avenue West.
Kazenelson managed to hold onto a 13th-floor balcony when the swing stage split in two, the court was told at his trial in June. He had been handing tools to the men earlier that day, according to testimony.
The Crown attorney has said he will ask the judge for a four- to five-year prison sentence for Kazenelson.
Only a handful of others across the country have been convicted of criminal negligence connected to the workplace since the law was changed, including:
- A BC Ferries navigation officer was sentenced to four years in prison on June 24, 2013, after being convicted of criminal negligence causing death. Karl Lilgert got distracted and didn’t notice that the Queen of the North ferry had gone off course. The vessel then ran aground and two passengers died as the ferry sank in March 2006. Lilgert appealed his sentence, but the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the case in May.
- A Quebec landscape contractor was convicted of criminal negligence causing death in September 2010, after one of his employees was crushed to death by a backhoe the contractor had been driving. An investigation found that the 30-year-old backhoe had not received regular maintenance since the contractor bought it, nor had it undergone a formal inspection in five years, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety reports. The Quebec man received a two-year conditional sentence.
The 2004 changes to the law also led to a harsher penalty for Metron Construction Inc., the firm who employed Kazenelson and the other workers.
A judge initially fined the company $200,000 in July 2012 after it pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death, as well as $142,500 in victim and other surcharges.
But the Ontario Appeal Court overturned that sentencing decision in September 2013, saying that the lower fine reflected guidelines from the Ontario Health and Safety Act — and not the new sentences outlined in the Criminal Code.
“Indeed, some might treat such a fine as simply a cost of doing business,” the Appeal Court judges wrote, before raising the base fine to $750,000. “Workers employed by a corporation are entitled to expect higher standards of conduct than that exhibited by the respondent. Denunciation and deterrence should have received greater emphasis.
“They did not. The sentence was demonstrably unfit.”
Metrocon’s president, Joel Schwartz, was also initially charged in the case, but the Crown dropped those charges in July 2012, saying it couldn’t secure a conviction.
The president of the Ontario Federation of Labour recently told CBC News that while he’s pleased Kazenelson’s sentencing will go ahead today, he wants to see company executives held responsible in future as well.
“We hope this sentencing sends strong shivers down the spines of every employer in Ontario. You can’t chalk up a worker’s life as the cost of doing business.”
Numerous safety violations emerged as the case made its way through the courts. Only one man of the six on the scaffolding was wearing a harness secured to a lifeline — and he was the only one to survive.
Kazenelson allowed the six men to keep working on the platform at the time, although there were only lifelines available for two people.
Court documents also showed that three of the four men who died had marijuana in their systems before going up to repair the balconies. One of the three was also a supervisor.