Manitoba Liberals say workplace death plea deal shows province isn’t serious about worker safety

The Manitoba Liberal Party and the father of a man killed in a workplace accident in a Manitoba Hydro marshalling yard near Gillam in 2018 say a plea deal with the company that employed him at the time shows that the provincial government isn’t taking workplace health and safety seriously enough.

Seven Workplace Health and Safety Act charges, including for failing to ensure the safety and health of workers, failing to provide adequate training and competent supervision to workers, and failing to develop and implement safe work procedures for the use of dunnage to secure a load on a trailer, were laid against Forbes Bros. Ltd, an Edmonton-based private contractor working for Manitoba Hydro, in April. They related to the Jan. 17, 2018 death of 22-year-old Todd Maytwayashing of Lake Manitoba First Nation, who saw a problem with the way steel was loaded on another worker’s truck and was going to help fix the problem when a bundle of steel weighing 500 to 600 pounds came loose and struck him in the head, killing him.

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The Liberals say those charges have been settled with a plea deal that will see Forbes Bros Ltd. pay a $150,000 fine, and that Maytwayashing’s family was never consulted about the charges or the plea agreement.

“Courts have a double standard when it comes to holding people responsible for a death that shouldn’t have happened,” said Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont in a press release. “A person will face criminal charges and jail time, but corporations usually only face a fine. We have to do better.”

Maytwayashing’s father Barry Swan said that when his son was killed, he and other family members drove all night to get to the accident site, which was unsecured. He also said that they arrived before occupational health and safety inspector and that it took months of advocacy to get information about what happened to his son.

“No family should ever have to go through something like this,” said Swan. “What our family wants is closure and reassurance cases like this won’t happen again."

The Liberals want the Manitoba government to enforce the federal Westray Act, which amended the Criminal Code so that corporations and company directors could be held criminally responsible for worker deaths and injuries. 

“This change should be a priority for any government looking to ensure workers are safe in Canada,” said Liberal River Heights MLA Jon Gerrard.

Fourteen Manitoba workers died on the job in 2018, according to the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU).

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